Celtic Halloween traditions and rituals once led by the druids continue to be celebrated in Ireland to the present day. Halloween is generally believed to have its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-ann with sow rhyming with cow) which heralded the beginning of winter — the season of long nights and darkness.
At Halloween, domestic hearth fires would be extinguished before the druids performed a ritual lighting of a bonfire to signal that all was well The Celts believed that darkness preceded light, so the lighting of a bonfire at the start of Winter was a new year celebration. The bonfire was also believed to ward off evil spirits and was sometimes used in fortune telling rituals.
Halloween costumes were traditionally worn to frighten away evil spirits.
Trick or Treating
Traditionally, people disguised in costumes would knock on their neighbours’ doors and perform a song or poem in exchange for food. The masks they wore were called ‘vizards’ and the food was intended to placate the fairies and prevent them from damaging the harvest.
Nuts are sometimes associated with fortune telling at Halloween. The idea is that if you throw two nuts into the fire and they burn and turn to ash together, it was supposedly a sign that you and your lover would stay together; if they spit and roll apart things your long term prospects were not so good.
Folk belief held that apples should be harvested before Halloween to avoid contamination by the fairies who would spit on any fruit remaining on the trees and make it inedible. Apples were also sometimes used for fortune telling. Girls would attempt to peel an apple in one go. They then threw the peel over the left shoulder and when it landed it would show the initial of their future husband.
A traditional dish made with mashed potato, cabbage, onions and butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. Sometimes parsnip is added and often colcannon is served with bacon. Irish chef Kevin Dundon has a nice recipe for colcannon if you are interested in trying this traditional dish. A big pot of colcannon on the stove would ensure there was enough food for any ancestor spirits who might visit at Halloween.
Halloween Barn Brack
Barn back is a rich fruit bread that traditionally contained various wrapped tokens such as a ring, a thimble, a silver sixpence, a stick and a pea. The tokens were used for fortune telling. If you got the ring, you would be married within the year. The sixpence was a sign that money was coming, the pea was a sign that you would not marry within the year, the thimble a sign that you would never marry. The stick predicted an unhappy marriage.
Halloween is one of the four Celtic festivals that take coincide with major solar events, the others being Imbolc (celebrated on 1 February to mark the beginning of Spring), Bealtaine (now celebrated on 1 May and marking the beginning of summer) and Lughnasadh (celebrated in early August to mark the beginning of the harvest).