It’s that time of year where we’re all getting ready for Halloween but as we prepare for the festivities some of you may not have known that Halloween actually originated in Ireland.
The festival of Samhain originated in Celtic Ireland about 2,000 years ago and like most pagan festivals its origins are heavily rooted in agriculture. It marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker months. During this time of year, the division between this world and the otherworld were believed to be at its most fragile and the dead were said to walk the earth for this night, the 31st of October.
At Samhain it was believed that the spirits needed to be kept happy in order to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left for the spirits and people wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as bad spirits in order to avoid them. This is where the modern tradition of trick-or-treating appears to have originated from.
Halloween traditions in Ireland
Halloween for me is awash with weird and wonderful traditions, below are just a few of the things that I remember from my childhood and some traditions that we still carry on today.
No Irish Halloween would be complete without apples, in their abundance. Tie them to a string, cover them in chocolate shove them in a bowl of water, you name it, we’ve probably done it. Snap Apple involves the near impossible task of tying an apple to a string, dangling it from the ceiling and attempting to take a bite out of it with your hands tied behind your back.
This game involves filling a large bowl of water, adding some apples, followed by a clatter of slobbery children that will then proceed to dip their faces into said bowl in a fierce competition to catch a prized apple with their teeth. Another variation of this game is to use coins instead of apples. How coins that have been mauled by hundreds of thousands of people were ever allowed into the mouths of young children is hard to grasp but it seems it’s what I have to thank for my rather impenetrable immune system.
Barm brac (or Bairin Brac as it’s called in Gaelic) is a big part of any Irish Halloween. Brac is a rich fruit cake which is typically eaten with butter, for some bizarre reason. However it’s so much more than just a cake, for within this humble cake lies the fate of its beholder. Various items hidden within the cake signify different predictions for the future. Finding a coin in the Brac could foretell of riches, a ring could predict marriage and a dreaded rag could tell of poverty.
A key part of Irish Halloween that I remember from my youth is how much entertainment played a big part. In true Celtic fashion; song, dance and the spoken word is always a vital part of any Irish celebrations.
In an Irish twist of what we know today as “trick-or-treating”, sweets and nuts were exchanged for entertainment. I can now look back in smug recollection of the days where our Halloween sweets were earned and not simply taken for granted!
Are there any Halloween traditions that we have forgotten? Maybe you have some to add? Let us know!