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The Origins of Halloween and The Ancient Irish Festival of Samhain

Deirdre Murray

It’s that time of the year again. The pumpkins are out along with the ghouls and goblins. Back home in Ireland, Mammy would be pulling out a hot barmbrack from the oven and I’d be scalding meself trying to eat it. I can almost feel the burnt mouth. There are so many Halloween activities going on with people getting ready for the festivities. It’s all very exciting. But I bet you didn’t know that Halloween actually began in Ireland? It was called Samhain. (Sow-in)

‘Oíche’ means ‘night’ in Irish and so Oíche Shamhna refers to Halloween night. Samhain (Sow-in) was a festival that marked the end of the harvest season in Ireland. It would be celebrated from midnight on the 31st of October to midnight on November 1st. Samhain was a transitional festival marking the transition from summer to winter (but nowadays is mostly just another holiday/excuse to celebrate with a drink!). Samhain is one of the 4 Irish seasonal festivals which also include Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. During the Samhain, the Celts would light huge bonfires, dance and sing. These festivals would be held in huge fields or even the bog! (And for those of you who don’t know; the bog is the marshy land up in the hills of Ireland where we would make turf for burning! Not peat now, no no, it’s turf! That's very important! Nowadays, people are making beautiful art out of turf or and even turf-smelling incense - you can find them both on It’s the smell of home! Anyway, enough about that..).

It was believed that during Samhain, the boundaries between this world and the next were much thinner and so spirits could cross between worlds much easier on that night.In order to insure that their livestock survived the winter, people would have to pay respects to the spirits by offering up food and drink (copious amounts of drink, I’d say!). People would put on Halloween costumes in an attempt to disguise themselves in front of the spirits. In the 9th century AD, Western Christianity shifted the date of All Saints' Day to 1 November, while 2 November later became All Souls' Day. And so, over the centuries Samhain and All-Saints day merged to create ‘Halloween’ as we know it. Another wonderful tradition that actually came from Ireland. From all of us here, we hope you have a wonderful Halloween!

‘Oíche Shamhna Shona Duit!’ (Happy Halloween to you!)

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