Halloween began as Samhain, the New Year’s Eve of the ancient Celts. They believed spirits from the other side of the grave could visit. Celebrate your spooky roots this year with some traditional fun and frights.
In ancient Ireland, our ancestors were finishing the harvest now. They were storing food and preparing for winter. They were also getting ready for the scariest day of the year – their New Year’s Eve. They didn’t dress up for a big night out because they believed that the veil separating this world from the next was worn thin by the end of the year and spirits from beyond could come to them. In other words, it was a big night out for ghouls and ghosts.
To protect themselves, they carved scary faces into gourds and turnips and placed them outside their homes. They wanted to out-spook the spooky creatures they feared would be around. They had more on their minds than visiting spirits, however. Like all people ever, they yearned to know what their future held. So they turned to different methods of fortune telling on Samhain. Barm brack is one of the most enduring, not to mention delicious. This traditional, round loaf of fruit cake held more than raisins. For Samhain, people mixed in various tokens to represent what the year ahead held. If you got a coin in your piece of barm brack, you could look forward to a prosperous year ahead. A bit of cloth was more than a choking hazard; it indicated poverty. A ring meant marriage. A thimble meant another year unmarried.
Get Your Scary on for Samhain
Getting in touch with your Irish heritage this Halloween is a great way to avoid the creepy clowns out there. Stay in have a Celtic Samhain celebration or have an Irish Halloween party before going trick or treating. Here’s a few Irish Halloween / Samhain traditions to enjoy.
- Bonfire – This is still a popular tradition in Ireland. Children start stashing away whatever bits of scrap wood they can find in September. Pallets, broken furniture, anything that might burn. Not every area permits giant bonfires in public areas. You can compromise. A backyard fire pit or chimera are safe and convenient ways to re-create this ancient tradition without attracting unwanted attention from the fire department.
- Food – In addition to the barm brack described above, colcannon is an essential Samhain dish. It’s basically mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale, and it is a great way to sneak some nourishment into children before they gorge themselves with candy.
- Fortune telling games – Bobbing for apples was once meant to divine who would be the next to marry, as was the more dangerous snapapple. Snapapple involved hanging two apples and two lit candles from two crossed pieces of wood. In both, whoever managed to get a bite of apple first would be married (Presumably those who accidentally bit a lit candle set themselves back significantly in the marriage stakes.) Other games involved peeling apples or potatoes and letting the peels fall to the ground to see if they formed letters. Those would be the initials of the person the one peeling would marry.
You can bring Halloween full circle back to its Irish roots by enjoying some Samhain traditions. Just watch out for those spirits visiting from the next world. Some of them are very temperamental!