Halloween has been celebrated in Ireland for over 2,000 years. Halloween’s origins can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain.
Samhain had three distinct elements:
Firstly, it was an important fire festival, celebrated over the evening of 31st October and throughout the following day. The flames of old fires had to be extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by druids. It’s similar to our modern New Year’s Day in that it was based around the notion of casting out the old and moving into the new.
To our pagan ancestors it marked the end of the ‘pastoral cycle’ – a time when all the crops would have been gathered and placed in storage for the long winter ahead and when livestock would be brought in from the fields and selected for slaughter or breeding.
People also believed that the time between the night of 31st October and the 1st November was a time when the barrier between the realm of the spirits and the real world grew weak allowing souls and spirits of the departed to return to their former home – both good and bad spirits! The good spirits, those of friends and family, were though to return home to see their loved ones and were honoured with cooked food such as Colcannon and celebrations.
The evil spirts such as Banshees, Puca, Fairie and Shapeshifters needed to be frightened off. People dressed up in ugly masks and disguises made from animal skins in the hope that the spirits would not recognise them if they had wronged them! Bonfires were lit and lots of noise ensued to ward off these evil spirits.
With the spread of the Roman Catholic Church the festival was incorporated into the church approved ‘All Saints Day’ on 1st November. The church authorities did not approve of pagan rituals and ‘All Saints Day’ was used to honour Christian martyrs.
When the church merged All Saints Day and the pagan festival it became known as Hallomass. Hallo meant saintly and so the name is meant to mean mass of the saints. However, the 31st was called All Hallows Eve.
As the Irish began to emigrate to America during the famine and afterwards, they brought the tradition of Halloween to their new homes which is why it is celebrated in the USA and all around the world today! Traditionally lanterns were carved out of turnips but as they were hard to find in new America pumpkins were used instead.
As time went on, the tradition developed into a fun filled festival with lots of activities such as trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, lighting bonfires, dressing up in costumes and eating treats.
Wishing you a night full of frights and a bag full of delights!
Follow this link to see what is on locally in Limerick.