The Irish origins of Halloween

Halloween was originally a pagan holiday to honor the dead. It can be traced back to the Druids, a Celtic culture in Ireland (as well as Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man) that existed more than 2000 years ago. The Druids are famous for being the supposed creators of the shrine of Stonehenge. Their holiday It took place on October 31, the last day of the Celtic calendar, known as Samhain (pronounced sow-win).

Samhain, beginning on the evening of October 31st and ending on the evening of November 1st, marked the end of the summer and the beginning of the Celtic new year. It was celebrated with a harvest festival involving all kinds of traditions (feasts, bonfires, bobbing for apples, fortune-telling) and beliefs about spirits and magical beings, such as fairies. Pagans believed the night of Samhain was very mystical – that the veil between our living world and the spirit world was at its thinnest and most permeable point.

Because of this, the Celts believed the souls of the dead wandered that night. Some were evil. To appease them, people left out food and drink. They believed this could help ensure a plentiful harvest. Some dressed as animals or other beings so they would not be stolen away by the fairies. In some traditions, they went from house to house to ask for food. These customs evolved into today’s tradition of trick-or-treating.

Irish immigrants brought the tradition of jack o’lanterns to the United States. In Ireland, they carved turnips, but the head-shaped pumpkins in America inspired a new tradition.

About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a mom, teacher, and blogger. Her blogs include Autumn in Virginia, Cool Yule Blog and You Can't Make This Stuff Up, among others. She is also the creator of "Living Well With Autism," an online resource for caregivers of children, teens, and adults with autism and related special needs.
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