Even though many of us may not be celebrating Halloween in the usual way, we should take a minute and be thankful for all the candy, outlandish costumes and overall fun we’ve had on Halloween — both as a child and an adult. And, while we are feeling a sense of gratitude for the holiday, we should tip our hat across the pond to Ireland, where many of our Halloween traditions began.
Halloween’s origins can be traced back more than 3,000 years to Ireland’s Ancient East and the Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration featuring fire and feasting to mark the end of the season of light and starting the dark days of winter.
The Celts believed there was contact between the living and the dead, and in order not to be pulled into the world of the dead prematurely, they would disguise themselves in customers to confuse and scare off any ghosts, fairies and demons.
The morphing of Samhain into Halloween started in the 7th century when Christianity declared All Saints’ Day or All-Hallows for November 1, making the night before “All-Hallows Eve.
Another Irish Halloween tradition is lighting bonfires on hilltops where clans and communities would gather to light the huge ceremonial Samhain fires. One of the biggest festivals was at the Hill of Tlachtga or the Hill of Ward in County Meath. Excavations suggest the hill was used for celebrations more than 2,700 years ago. Tlachtga was a powerful druidress in Irish mythology.
The Hill of Ward and nearby Hill of Tara, where the High Kings of Ireland ruled, remain two of the biggest centers of Irish Halloween traditions. The Púca Festival, a modern-day version of the Samhain celebration is held in County Meath and County Louth every year.
Another 18th century Irish tradition that was brought to the United States was carving vegetables. In Ireland, they carved turnips and large potatoes, and the jack-o-latern’s name came from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who played a trick on the Devil. As a punishment, the devil doom Jack to wander eternity with only a burning ember from the fires of hell inside a turnip to light his way. It was believed that putting a lighted vegetable in the window helped keep the roaming spirits away.