Where does Halloween come from?
Samhain is, of course, the precursor to Halloween and it is the rituals of Halloween – Samhain that have been folded into our Halloween celebrations. Some will know the ancient Celtic roots of the candy-filled fun night, many won’t. Samhain or Halloween originated here in Ireland.
Ireland is a land of legends and fairytales and the celebration of Samhain is full of superstitions and rituals. Samhain is celebrated all over Ireland including Newgrange where the winter solstice takes place deep within the megalithic barrows.
Where did Halloween start?
Samhain is Irish Gaelic for “summer’s end.” The standard Irish pronunciation is “sow-in” with the “ow” like in “cow.” Other pronunciations that follow with the many Gaelic dialects include “sow-een” “shahvin” “sowin” (with “ow” like in “glow”). The Scots Gaelic spelling is “Samhuin” or “Samhuinn.”
It was in the 8th century that the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as ‘All Saints Day’ (‘All Hallows’) – a day of commemoration for those Saints that did not have a specific day of remembrance. The night before was known as ‘All Hallows Eve’ which, over time, became known as Halloween. This was done to incorporate the ancient pagan traditions of Ireland that the Church wanted to overcome and blend into Christianity.
3 Irish Halloween traditions
Traditional Irish Samhain/Halloween Dinner
The traditional Irish dinner is a boiled potato, colcannon, cabbage and raw onions. Not sure why the raw onions as nobody can explain that one, but coins are said to be wrapped in paper and then put into the potatoes for the children to find. I guess that’s the Irish version of trick or treat.
The traditional Halloween cake is served is barmbrack which is a fruit bread. Each member of the family gets a slice. Hidden within the bread are a coin, a ring and a piece of rag. If you get the rag then your financial future is not great, the coin obviously means prosperity and the ring is of course romance in the offing.
Each member of the family places a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and it is then left undisturbed overnight. If, in the morning, a leaf is still perfect and has not developed any spots then the person who placed the leaf in the cup can be sure of 12 months health until the following Halloween. (from Irish Halloween traditions)
Halloween Samhain Traditions
In Celtic Ireland nearly 2,000 years ago, Samhain was celebrated as it divides the year from summer to winter. At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. This day falls between two days Oíche Shamhna (October 31) and Lá na Marbh (November 2). Oíche Shamhna is Halloween and Lá na Marbh is the Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day when those who have passed away are remembered. It marks the beginning of the “darker half” of the year as the winter draws near.
Samhain is a time to honour the family’s ancestors and those that had passed. These spirits were honoured and invited into the family home while the harmful spirits were kept away. Folks wore costumes and masked themselves as the harmful spirits to avoid any harm. The bones of the family livestock were cast into communal fires and bonfires and food played a great role in the festivities. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, the dead’s portion was shared with those who didn’t have as much. The celebrations went long into the night and offerings of food and gifts were left out for the fairies and wee folk. Participants celebrated with huge bonfires to light the way into the season of the dark.
In Ireland, there are two hills in the Boyne Valley that are associated with Samhain, Tlachtga and Tara. Tlachtga was the location of the Great Fire Festival which begun on the eve of Samhain (Halloween). The entrance passage to the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara is aligned with the rising sun around Samhain. The Mound of the Hostages is 4,500 to 5000 years old, suggesting that Samhain was celebrated long before the first Celts arrived in Ireland.
Archaeological investigation of Tlachtga has revealed evidence of intense burning on the hill which has been dated from the mid-first millennium AD, this confirms folklore stories of the hill as a setting for the Samhain fires.
Celebrating the Celtic Festival of Samhain (Halloween)
The festival of fire ceremony at Tlachtga was revived a few years back, and all are welcome to attend. Participants assemble in the nearby town of Athboy at around 7 pm on the 31st of October. From there, the gathering proceeds to the Hill of Ward bearing lighted torches and candles, and on reaching the site, great fires are lit and the festival associated pageantry begins.
There are Samhain Festivals all over Ireland and the UK from Tara to Loughcrew and Rath Lugh celebrations are being prepared and everyone is welcomed to honour the ancestors and step over the threshold to the new year.
The Yellow Book of Lecan is a medieval book of tales, that reported people referred to Samhain as the “Feast of Mongfind,” a legendary witch-queen who married the King of Tara in old Ireland and was central to ancient Samhain celebrations, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary writes.
Derry the best place in the world to celebrate Halloween
Otherwise known as being a city of song and dance, rich in history with a reputation for a good night out, the Halloween celebrations fuse the best of Derry together – starting with the 17th-century city walls that give it its nickname, the Walled City (Derry is the only fully intact walled city in Ireland). While they’ve often been seen as a divisive symbol in a city largely populated by Irish nationalists, now the Halloween “wakening of the walls” – which see them brought to life with art projections and nearby parades – has given them a new significance. from the Independent Newspaper
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