Halloween has always interested me – not just for the trick-or-treating or the costumes or parties, but for its beginnings as “All Hallows Eve.” While Halloween might be celebrated all around the world, it is steeped in Irish tradition, culture and in its both pagan and Christian heritage.
Long before Christianity arrived in Ireland, Halloween was known as Samhain. The Celtic year was divided into two parts – the Brighthalf which is called Beltane and the Darkhalf which is called Samhain. Samhaim – celebrated on October 31st – marked the end of the bright and the beginning of the dark. The Ancient Celtic New Year started at nightfall on October 31st and according to Irish tradition the “barrows and mounds” where the Sidhe (mythical Celtic gods) dwelled could open and they along with the dead could walk the Earth. This belief is fodder for some of the more scary aspects of Halloween. Legend has it as the end of harvest time and grazing time – and it is the time of great fertility. The custom of dressing up in costume comes from an old Celtic tradition when people used to dress in costumes that resembled evil spirits in order to placate them or ward them off – so as not to become possessed! The Jack O’ Lantern – carved in the shape of a scary face which is then lit up by placing a candle inside – has Irish roots but may have been carved in turnips – then later in pumpkins more plentiful in America. Trick or treating is rooted in a time when the poor would go round to the rich peoples houses and ask for food or money.
In Ireland the holiday of Halloween is not just celebrated on the one day any more – it is now joined with the Christian holidays of All Saints Day, November 1st and All Souls Day, November 2nd. The Irish brought the custom of Halloween to America in the 1840s. Here too Halloween is celebrated over many days. In the United States the celebration of Halloween alive and thriving and commercially doing very well!