How the Irish Celebrate Halloween

Halloween—or Hallowe'en—is said to have originated under the name Samhain (pronounced sow-en), a pagan festival celebrated among the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain. Samhain (from the Old Irish samain meaning 'end of summer';), was a pastoral and agricultural fire festival when the dead were said to revisit the mortal world, with large communal bonfires being lit to keep them away.

Having originated in Ireland, it's perhaps no surprise that Halloween is widely celebrated here today. Both adults and children dress up as ghosts, ghouls, witches, and zombies, and knock on doors to collect nuts, fruit and candy from neighbors for the Halloween festival. Many years ago, children collecting food for the festival would have salt sprinkled in their hair to keep away evil spirits. Versions of the Samhain festival were carried to North America in the 19th century by Scottish and Irish immigrants, and one can clearly see where today's trick-or-treating originated from. Bonfires are still lit as part of the celebrations, and nowadays there are also spectacular fireworks displays.

The illuminated carved pumpkins we all associate with Halloween - or jack-o'-lanterns as they're called in the States - decorate gardens during the celebrations. A traditional Halloween cake, barmbrack (probably from the Gaelic bairin breac meaning little speckled cake ), is baked for the festivities with each person getting one slice. Tradition has it that the barmbrack, which is an Irish fruit bread, is baked complete with a piece of rag, a coin, and a ring, and depending on which you get in your slice (if any), your future prospects are revealed. The rag is a sign of hardship; the coin a sign of prosperity; and the ring foretells impending romance, or continued happiness. Today, however, it's usually only a ring that's placed in commercially produced barmbracks.

Bobbing for apples is a popular game enjoyed on Halloween in Ireland. Apples, monkey nuts (peanuts in shells), and small coins are placed in a bowl of water. While the apples and monkey nuts float, the coins sink, making it much more difficult to catch any in one's mouth. Another game played during the celebrations involves eating an apple suspended on a piece of string, without the use of one's hands.

In recognition of Halloween, children in Ireland have a week's break from school, and the last Monday in October is a public holiday given in celebration of the festival.




author: Jane Darragh

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