Halloween is a global tradition. All around the world, on October 31st, children dress-up, bonfires are lit and perhaps a Tim Burton movie is watched! But where did it all begin? How did this spooky festival come to exist? Like many great things, it all began in County Meath, Ireland, the birthplace of Coole Swan and the Celtic festival Samhain.
Samhain was an annual Gaelic festival to mark the end of the harvest. The Celts felt that, at Samhain, the boundary between this world and the “otherworld”, was weaker – thus were born the Halloween traditions we know and love today.
In Irish mythology the Aos Sí refers to “fairies” and “spirits”. As they believed they could, more easily, cross into our world during the festival of Samhain, the Celts took part in Guising and mumming. Today, we call those traditions dressing up and trick-or-treating. The costumes were designed to hide the people from bad spirits and Celts would go door to door asking for food which then would be offered up to the Aos Sí in order to placate them.
Bonfires, too, were used to ward off banshees, ghosts and other mythical creatures. The druids believed the flames had cleansing powers and would light them to protect themselves. Even the Halloween games involving foods like nuts and apples were Celtic traditions, known as divinations. They were attempts of the pagan people to gain insight into the other world and deities they believed in.
How, you may ask, did this Celtic tradition become a worldwide phenomenon of a different name? Halloween has no records of existence in America before the nineteenth century and yet, it has become synonymous with the store-bought costumes and candy stores found in the US. In fact, however, the Irish brought their ancient tradition to the States when they began to emigrate from the 1800s onward, this is how Samhain became Halloween and how it evolved to the annual celebration we have today.
It is funny to think the Hill of Ward in County Meath is where it all began. Here, the druids claimed, was where our world was closest to the other world. Makes sense that Coole Swan tastes so other-worldly then we guess?
Oíche Shamhna Shona duit (Happy Halloween)