Every year, Halloween comes around and it's always a topic of debate as to whether or not it's a legitimate holiday or whether it has been Americanized. While some discount its spooky air, others run out to home decor stores the second that Halloween-themed items land on the shelves. Believe it or not, Halloween - despite its origins - is an authentic holiday, and while it has been Americanized, it is legitimately celebrated in Ireland... which also happens to be where it originated.
The celebrations that take place in Ireland are very similar to the customs in the US, however, in Ireland, the customs are rooted in tradition and date back to the days when Celts ruled the land. These Celtic traditions are the foundation for Halloween and while the US has taken bits and pieces in order to celebrate its version of Halloween, Ireland's holiday is far more universal and well-received, since it's part of the country's history, when it was known as Samhain.
Bonfires, Jack 'O Lanterns, And Costumes
Traditionally, Samhain, known as Halloween today, had two different representations in Ireland: It was both symbolic of the end of summer, as well as marking the period during which it was believed that spirits could roam the earth. This one day of transition was believed to be the only time when the door between the living and the dead could be opened, thus came the traditions which followed it.
Bonfires have always been part of the Samhain celebration and it's not uncommon to find many around the country on October 31st, as they're all lit for a reason. Legend says that bonfires could ward off bad fortune as well as evil spirits and they also served as a form of protection as well as metaphorical future insurance for good fortune. It was also believed that bonfires encouraged dreams, and the embers would often be scattered in the fields of farmers in order to ward off bad luck in the face of the following year.
Believe it or not, the first Jack 'o Lantern was actually believed to be a turnip, which was hollowed out in order for people to carry home a bit of the lit bonfire that they'd just left. Another explanation for the sometimes sinister-looking pumpkins is that of old legend: It's often said that a blacksmith from the 18th century by the name of Jack was denied entry into heaven due to his dabbling in the devil's games, therefore he was condemned to earth for eternity. In response, Jack supposedly requested that he be given a light to walk with, which came to him in the form of burning coal inserted into a hollowed-out turnip. It's the belief in Ireland that a Jack 'o Lantern in the window of a home will keep Jack's wandering spirit at bay. The only reason pumpkins are used in the US is because they're more readily available than turnips.
Costumes as a Halloween tradition are also part of the same reason that bonfires are lit; in addition to open flames keeping spirits away, it was believed that dressing up would confuse any spirits who weren't scared off by the fire, and would think those dressed in costume were also lone spirits. During Samhain, however, costumes were a bit different - the Celts would wear animal furs and skins rather than the wide array of costumes that are available today.
Many countries have their own culinary traditions and recipes for holidays and Ireland is no different. For Halloween, even now for present-day celebrations, Ireland continues to pay homage to the traditional recipes once used for Samhain. One of them, Barmbrack, which comes from the name 'Bairín Breac' in Gaelic, is a dessert-like bread which is symbolic depending on which slice a person receives.
Tradition calls for the bread to contain various things that represent the future, such as a thimble which means a person will never marry, a coin which stands for a prosperous year, a ring symbolizing impending romance, and a rag which symbolizes financial instability. Aside from random items, the bread also contains dried fruit that's reconstituted with hot tea.
Colcannon is another traditional food that's served for Halloween and at its base is cabbage, boiled potatoes, and raw onions. Similar to the Barmbrack bread, items such as coins or even a ring were slipped in the dish for kids and adults similar to a prize in a cereal box, but not before being wrapped in paper to avoid being eaten.
Games For Kids And Adults
Although bobbing for apples is a commonly-played game in the US, it's also something that was started in Ireland for Halloween. In keeping with the apple theme, a game called 'snap apple' is also played, which involves hanging apples from trees and having kids 'snap' or use their teeth in order to get them down. The first one to get a decent-sized bite out of an apple wins a prize and it's also believed that the first person to do so will also be the first in the group to marry.