Halloween has come a long way from its origins in Ireland as the pagan festival of Samhain.
In the ancient Celtic traditions of old Ireland, Samhain was the end of summer and the beginning of winter, a time of long and cold nights and for many a portent of death. As these two periods crossed over at Samhain, the dead supposedly returned to the mortal world and so large communal fires were lit to ward off evil spirits. These festivals of fire were well documented at the royal court of Tara and would include a 'Feile na Marbh', a festival of the dead. In parts of Ireland, it was believed that a 'Puca', or mischievous spirit would cast spells on unsuspecting folk.
Originally Samhain would occur around moon cycles at the start of November and was observed in Ireland well into the 6th century, despite the introduction of Christianity. When Christianity set November 1st as 'All Saints Day' or 'All Hallows Day' in the 8th century, the Irish Celts were reluctant to give up their festival and so celebrated Samhain as 'All Hallows Eve', which later became corrupted to Hallowe'en and Halloween.
In America there is no mention of Halloween until the early 19th century following mass trans-Atlantic emigration by over 2 million Irish escaping famine from 1845-1849. With them, traveled the celebration of Halloween and other age old customs. By the early 20th century, America began to commercialise Halloween with postcards, figurines and later masks and costumes, transforming the festival into one of the most profitable times of year for retailers. Indeed, America has had such an impact on Halloween that many people believe it is an American invention, rather than an ancient Irish Tradition.
With such a cultural influence, Halloween today in Ireland is celebrated very much the same as in the States. Adults and children dress up as witches, ghosts, zombies and all kind of macabre figures and go to fancy dress parties or go out trick or treating. Houses are bedecked with Jack O'Lanterns, broomsticks and other Halloween decorations.
Unfortunately, this year there will be no bobbing for apples and trick or treating to stay safe during the pandemic. Instead, people will find new ways to have fun within the coronavirus guidelines, such as family gatherings online, treasure hunts, scary movies, marshmallows over fire, and spooky storytelling sessions. So, a different type of Halloween for Ireland this year, but let's make the best of it, happy Samhain!