How The Irish Invented Halloween
Halloween is a regular part of every child’s year nowadays. Its arrival during kids half term making it a popular excuse for groups of friends to roam their neighbourhood knocking on doors demanding goodies.
Ireland has taken to the American style of Halloween to its heart and lots of decorations can be seen in windows and gardens the scarier the better. What is perhaps not well known about Halloween is that the Irish exported Halloween to the United States, and then the Americans re-exported it back to Ireland in its present form.
To understand how this works you need to know about the place of Halloween in Irish and particularly Irish Celtic culture.
The festival is thought to originate as the Celtic or pagan harvest festival at the start of the season Samhain.
There are four celtic seasons, Imbolc (February), Bealtane (May), Luaghnasadh (August) and Samhain (October).
At this time it was believed that the boundary between this world and the “other world” became less and the souls of the deceased would visit this world more easily. Fires were lit and offerings of food, drink and a portion of the crops were made followed by feast and traditional games.
In the 16th century the festival started to include “mumming” or “guising” going in disguise looking for food, and playing pranks which were blamed on the fairy folk.
As is common with many pagan festivals the Christian religion has taken over and replaced the festival with November being the month of Holy Souls starting on all saints day, and during this period the dead are remembered.
Not all of the Celtic beliefs have disappeared, it was believed that as well as the souls of the dead being able to visit, wicked spirits and fairies also could cross the divide more easily and create mischief and even steal children and bring them back to the other world.
The way to avoid this was to dress children up in disguise so the fairies couldn’t see what they were and would leave them alone, and it is thought this was the origin of the disguises popular today.
History and records from the late 18th and early 19th century show that there was no indication that Halloween was celebrated in the United States. It was not until after mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the 19th century that Halloween became a major holiday in America, it had gradually spread in to mainstream society.
How was it re-exported? Carving pumpkins is a big part of the American traditional Halloween. Pumpkins were not grown in Ireland until quite recently, there being no use for them and no one ate them. It is only in the last forty or so years that the Americanised Pumpkin Halloween, appearing on television and being brought back with returning immigrants, has crossed back over the Atlantic.
The Irish brought Halloween to the States, then the Americans brought it back to Ireland!