Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween in Scotland and Ireland

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! In Scottish Gaelic, the autumn festival is called Samhuinn. In Ireland where the tradition began, it is called Samhain. 

To the ancient Celts, this pagan celebration was about the turning of the seasons. The Sam in the Scottish Samhuinn and Irish Samhain means summer. Summer was over and the harvest was done. It was now the time of the year when the nights grew long. To the Celts, the 1st of November, Samhain, was the Celtic New Year, and the celebrations began at sunset of the day before its Eve.

For Celts, Samhain was a spiritual time. There was evil afoot on Sanhaim because that was one of the few times the veil between this world and the other-world lifted, allowing spirits to walk the earth. That included puka, banshees, fairies, and other spirits - some of them evil. That is where fire comes in - fire was used to ward off these spirits and was an important element in the celebration. Huge bonfires were lit and people wore ugly masks and disguises to confuse the spirits and stop the dead identifying individuals who they had disliked during their own lifetime. All inside fires had to be extinguished in order to be relit at Sanhaim with kindling from the bonfire.

The origin of the pumpkin jack-o-lantern is found in Celtic Ireland and has always been wrapped up in Halloween. The Celts used turnips for the first jack-o-lanterns, carving menacing faces on them and then lighting them and placing them at their door to ward off evil spirits and the like. Here's the story of how it came to be called a "Jack" o lantern:

"According to legend, the origin of the Halloween lantern can be found in the tale of a young blacksmith called Jack O'Lantern who made a pact with the Devil during a gambling session. He managed to thwart the Devil and extracted a promise from him that he would never take his soul.
When he eventually died, Jack was refused entry to heaven on account of his drunken, lewd and miserly ways. The Devil, remembering his earlier promise, also refused to allow him into hell. So Jack was condemned to roam the dark hills and lanes of Ireland for eternity.
His only possessions were a turnip with a gouged out centre and a burning coal, thrown to him by the Devil. He put the coal inside the turnip to light his way through the dark countryside where he still wanders......"

The tradition of trick-or-treat comes from a Druid tradition of collecting nuts, eggs, and apples from the people on Sanhaim. The Druids were the religious leaders of the people and if they felt the people were being stingy with their offerings, they may have played a "mild trick" on them.

If you'd like to learn more about the origins of Halloween, University College Dublin, has published a free booklet for Halloween. It explains the origins of Halloween and explores old Irish tales, legends and customs.You can download it free at

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