Halloween's Irish Roots

Halloween's Irish Roots

Halloween has more history than just bowls overflowing with candy and ghouls and goblins traipsing through the streets. In Ireland, which is thought to be the birthplace of this now widely celebrated kid-friendly holiday, a number of time-tested traditions still ring true today. Here’s a look at the day’s history and how it’s celebrated—Irish style.

All Hallow’s Eve History

Like much of Ireland’s history, the roots of modern-day Halloween celebrations are said to trace back to the Celts, who occupied what is now Ireland more than 2,000 years ago. In short, the Celtic people held a festival known as “Samhain” at the end of the harvest before the cold of winter. Celebrated on October 31, the lines between the living and the dead were blurred on this day; many thought the spirits of the dead returned to earth on this day. When Christianity reached the Celts, Samhain began to blend with the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day on November 1, thus the evening before this day is known as All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween and has taken the forefront of the autumnal celebration.

Trick or Treating

While the treats may have changed from loaves of bread and apples to chocolate and candy, the idea behind trick or treating remains the same. Originally, costumed young men would visit homes and riddle the occupants with a rhyme that asked for food. They were then treated to the traditional Irish fare that was on the stove or given fruit and bread to take away. Today, this tradition continues with community gatherings—both in Ireland and abroad—where children receive bounty at the front doors of neighbors.

Feasting on Colcannon and Barmbrack Cake

Many households celebrate the occasion with a traditional Irish meal, which often includes the satisfying dish known as Colcannon (see our recipe here!).  In addition to the main meal, Barmbrack Cake—a sweet bread with fruit and baked-in objects that are said to reveal one’s fortune—is also served. The cakes typically include the following: a rag, which symbolizes an uncertain financial future; a coin, which equals a prosperous year; a ring, symbolizing budding romance or marriage; and a thimble or stick, meaning you’ll be unlucky in romance.

Gathering Around a Bonfire

In ancient times, the Celtic festival was celebrated with bonfires. Numerous sources attempt to explain these fires. All seem to concur that were lit to ward off spirits; however, accounts vary on the other meanings. Today, bonfires are still a part of fall and harvest celebrations in Ireland and around the world.

What other Irish Halloween traditions do you incorporate into your celebration?


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