The celebration of Halloween began in Ireland in about 1000 AD so its no wonder that there are so many Irish Halloween traditions that continue around the world every year.
Back then Halloween was pagan festival called “Samhain” meaning “end of summer”. The Celts believed that on the eve of Halloween dead spirits would visit the mortal world. They lit bonfires to keep evil spirits away and dressed in disguises.
Although our Halloween is less about dead spirits and more about having fun and dressing up there are some traditional aspects of an Irish Halloween that we have keep going.
Here’s list of some ancient and some more recent traditions from Ireland that have stuck over the years:
Samhain was seen as the end of summer but also the beginning of another year. It was also the one day of the year when spirits could walk the earth. The community would gather together and light huge fires to ward off bad fortune for the coming year and any evil spirits.
Some believe that people extinguished their fires at in the hearth at home before they left and would reignite them using an ember from the bonfire, for good luck. The day after the bonfire the ashes were spread across the fields to further ward off bad luck for the farmers during the year.
It was also traditionally believed that the bonfire encourages dreams especially of your future husband or wife. It was said that if you drop a cutting of your hair into the embers of the fire the identity of your first husband would be revealed.
There are two schools of thought on why the Irish carried Jack-o-lantern. One is that the tradition is an ancient Celtic tradition. In order to carry home an ember from the communal bonfire the people would hollow out a turnip so they could walk home with the fire still burning.
The other version is a little more spooky. The other story is that Jack-o-lanterns date back to the 18th century. It is named after an Irish blacksmith, called Jack, who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry into Heaven. Jack was condemned to walk the earth for eternity but asked the Devill for some light. He was given a burning coal which burnt into a turnip that he had hollowed out. Some Irish believe that hanging a lantern in their front window would keep Jack’s wandering soul away.
When the Scot-Irish emigrated to America in they adapted the tradition and used a pumpkin instead as it is more difficult to find turnips.
The community would gather around the bonfire and may would be dressed up in elaborate animal skins and heads.
The idea was that the evil spirits would be scared off by the fires. Then if the spirits happened to be wandering the earth and bumped into one of the Celts they might they were spirits themselves, because of their disguises, and let them go free. This is where our tradition of dressing up comes from.
Trick or Treat
Trick or treat originated centuries ago. In Ireland the poor would go from door to door at rich peoples homes and ask for food, kindling or money. They would then use what they collected for their celebrations on Halloween.
(Pronounced kohl cannon)
This is the traditional dinner to have on Halloween night before you head out for an evening of fun and mischief. It is a simple dish made with boiled potatoes, curly kale (a type of cabbage) and raw onions.
Traditionally coins were wrapped in pieces of cleans paper and slipped into children’s colcannon for them to find and keep. Sometimes people also hide a ring in the colcannon. Whoever finds the ring will be married within the year.
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 tbsp. milk or unsweetened/plain soy milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 cups chopped cabbage or kale
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/4 cup chopped onions or green onions
Cook potatoes in a pot of boiling water until tender. Drain, reserving water.
Place the hot potatoes in a large bowl.
Add chopped cabbage to the reserved potato water. Cook 6-8 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, fry the onions in the butter or margarine.
When they are cool enough to handle, mash potates with a hand masher or fork. Add the fried onions and cabbage.
Add milk, salt and pepper and beat until fluffy.