Friday, October 30, 1992


Halloween has its roots in the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain. The last day of October was the new year's eve of the Celtic calender and was traditionally an occasion for celebration and family reunion. It marked the end of the crop season which by tradition began on St. Patrick's Day. The crops had to be all gathered in by Halloween and no fruit could be picked because after Halloween the "puca" fouled all unpicked fruit on bush and tree alike. The return at Halloween of the livestock accompanied by their herders from their summer grazing was an occasion for family rejoicing and thereafter the cattle and other stock were free to roam the unenclosed lands which villagers shared on the rundale system. This they did until the following St. Patrick's Day when the livestock and herdsmen would depart yet again for the high ground of the summer booleying. October was also traditionally the potato month when potatoes were dug, sorted and placed in pits of straw and earth for future use. Any not dug out before the end of the month were destined to stay in the ground.

As part of the Celtic tradition associated with Halloween, fires were lit on prominent ground to mark the end of the growing season, and to symbolise the purification of the land. Great quantities of old straw and other combustible material were carried to the chosen site and set alight as darkness approached. The villagers or townspeople gathered around the fire and Autumn fruits such as hazelnuts and apples were roasted and eaten. Dancing and games went on throughout the night.

The games associated with Halloween have nowadays degenerated into pranks and horseplay but in other times they were played with a genuine and serious intent. Games of divination were particularly popular for on the night when the spirits were about people were anxious to know what the future held. Young people engaged in these games to find out their future, particularly where love and marriage were concerned. One such game was the placing of nuts near the fireplace, one for a girl the other for a favoured man. If they burned quietly together marriage was expected but if they blazed up or burst then the courtship was doomed. Another divination game was to peel an apple in a continuous strip. At midnight the peel was thrown over one shoulder and the initial of the future lover's name was read from the shape it took. The now traditional barm brack with the ring is a modern version of the old divination games.

Halloween is also associated even in modern times with other well known games in which autumnal fruits such as apples and nuts are prominent. Ducking for apples is one such game while ducking for money has the additional claim that the person who retrieves the coin from under the water will be lucky in money matters during the coming year. Suspending an apple from a cord and attempting to bite it as it swings is also a variant on the same game.

Halloween was also a time when pranks are played on other people. Nowadays that tradition has given way to the wearing of disguises by young children who go from door to door collecting for their Halloween party. They sometimes have a hallowed out turnip on which a face has been cut with a lighted candle inside. The children involved do not realise that they are carrying on a tradition stretching back centuries, the origin of which was the impersonation of the dead who on Halloween night were abroad. Tradition was that impersonating the dead afforded protection from the spirits.

Halloween for all its traditions, games and jollity has always been associated with death, ghosts and spirits. The christian churches commemorate their dead after Halloween and traditionally it has been the time for families to remember their dead relations and friends. As one would expect the association with death has led to an extensive folklore concerning the movement of spirits at Halloween. It was the day when the spirits of the day were believed to revisit their homes. It was once thought unlucky not to leave the door open and set a place at meal for the departed. These customs have long since been forgotten but some elements of the pagan Celtic festival are perpetuated today in association with the Christian celebration of All Souls Day on the 2nd of November.

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