Ireland Travel and Culture

Travel in Ireland - Halloween, Irish Style

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Like many things in Ireland, Halloween enjoys a long and rich history. In fact Irish celebrations date far back to the time of the Celts and traditions from that era have joined with more modern Catholic observances to give us the three day Halloween that Ireland still celebrates.

According to the Celts, October 31st marked the end of the summer and the beginning of their New Year. To mark the occasion they celebrated "Samhain," which can be roughly translated to "All Hollowtide" and is frequently referred to as the "Feast of the Dead." On that night the Celts believed that the dead revisited the world and their spirits searched for bodies to inhabit for the winter months as a sort of afterlife. Not wanting to host the spirit of the dead, the Celts extinguished their fires indoors, donned weird and ghoulish costumes and paraded outdoors to frighten away the unwelcome spirits.

Another reason why people might have extinguished fires was to re-light them from the common New Year's bonfire built on the hilltops, which was meant to symbolize the driving away of darkness and evil with the coming of the new year. As a direct result of this fire and darkness connection people started carving out turnips and placing lighted candles inside. This tradition is a forerunner of the American custom of scooping out the insides of pumpkins to place lights inside.

Much later in the 8th century the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as All Saints Day ("All Hallows") - a day of commemoration for those Saints that did not have a specific day of remembrance. The 2nd of November became All Soul's Day and the night before became known as All Hallows Eve which, over time, evolved into Halloween and we got the Irish holiday that's still observed today.

Surrounding the Halloween celebrations, Ireland enjoys quite a few traditions that mark it as a unique holiday. Probably most famous (and often most controversial) is the tradition of lighting bonfires. Quite often a group of people will meet at a crossroads or on a hill and light a large fire to celebrate the night, thus keeping the custom of the communal fire alive.

Today the greatest emphasis is of course on the children's celebration and like many other countries Irish children will dress up in costume and go door to door asking, "trick or treat?" and hoping for a treat. Be careful though. Many children still take the trick part seriously, so it's always safer to give the treat.

Within Irish households Halloween parties are very popular and certain games have become staples of these festivities. Such games include tying to bite an apple that's tied from a string with your hands tied behind your back. Another popular game involves putting some money at the bottom of a basin of water and trying to pick it up with your teeth.

There's going to be food at any good party and it certainly wouldn't be a Halloween party without Barn Brack. This is a type of fruit bread baked with a gold band ring inside. Legend says that the person who gets the slice with the ring will be married within the year.

The next day, All Saint's Day, is a holy day of worship in Ireland, so all practicing Catholics will attend mass. The following day is dedicated to praying for all those who have died and with the close of All Soul's Day the cap is put on Halloween until the next year.