Halloween originates from the Celtic festival of Samhain or the Feast of the Dead, when the dead visited the mortal world. The festival also marked the end of the summer months and the beginning of winter.
In the eighth century, the Catholic Church designated November 1 as All Saints Day or All Hallows Day. October 31 then became All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween.
Many Irish people still celebrate Halloween with some ancient traditions. Here are a few that persist today.
The communal bonfire was used to ward off bad spirits and bring about good luck. In Ancient times, Irish people would extinguish their hearth fires before attending the bonfire, and then reignite them using a spark from the bonfire as a portent of good luck.
Some believed that the Halloween bonfire encouraged dreams of a future husband or wife. A person who dropped a cutting of his or her hair into the fire would experience a dream that included the identity of a future mate.
This traditional fruit bread, inside of which is hidden a rag, a coin and a ring, is used to predict the future. Each family member gets a slice. The person who gets the rag has a doubtful financial future. The person who gets the coin can look forward to a prosperous year. The person who gets the ring will experience a new romance or experience continued happiness.
One of many games played on Halloween, snap apple involves hanging an apple from a string and blindfolding the players — usually children — who try to get a bite of the apple. The first player to get a bite gets a prize. This game is also played as "bobbing for apples," with the apples in water and children going in headfirst to get a bite.
The tradition of the jack-o-lantern comes from the story of Jack the Blacksmith, who colluded with the devil and was denied entry into heaven. Condemned to wander the earth, he was given only a burning coal ember, which he placed inside of a hollowed-out turnip.
These days, pumpkins are more plentiful, so the Irish carve pumpkins, often placing a jack-o-lantern in their windows to keep the wandering soul of Jack away.
This tradition involves each family member placing a perfect ivy leaf into a cup of water and letting it sit overnight. If the leaf is still perfect and has not developed any spots, the person who placed the leaf there can expect 12 months of health until the following Halloween.
This tradition dates back to the Celtic Druids, who would dress in costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils in an attempt to avoid being carried away by the real spirits.
Trick or Treat
The tradition of going door to door dates back to centuries ago, when the poor people of Ireland would go door to door asking for food, kindling or money for their Halloween celebrations.
This simple dish, made with boiled potatoes, curly kale and onions, is served on Halloween night. Sometimes, the Irish would wrap coins and place them in the dish for children to find and keep, or rings that signified the finder would be married within the year.