In this second issue of Irish Eyes, I will be discussing Halloween and its significance and connection with Ireland. Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. This marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31st, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth.
In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. This is part of the reason people still light bonfires on Halloween night. Although we may not know why bonfires are lit, the tradition has been passed down from the Celts 2000 years ago to us now in the 21st Century. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. This is another Irish tradition passed down to us, minus the animal heads and skins of course. Once again, we usually would not know why we dress up for Halloween but nevertheless we still uphold that tradition, even if it is to get horrendously drunk with friends.
When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
Whether you go out trick-or-treating, go out and have a good time with friends or light a giant bonfire with your family and close friends, a lot of the ancient Celtic traditions are unknowingly upheld by us all. This also includes a lot of traditions in other countries such as the United States and some parts of Central Europe, they all stem one way or another from the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain.
Just for anyone curious enough, it is pronounced “Sow-in”.