Ever-popular world-wide, where does Halloween actually originate? Ireland! Even the tradition of pumpkin carving comes from Ireland…
Though the festival has changed a lot, the origins of Halloween are quite old – though how old, it is difficult to say. Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, comes from an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, which predates Christianity by a long shot, so the origins of Halloween or Samahin are at least a few thousands years old.
Traditionally celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, the festival of Samhain is meant to celebrate the end of the annual harvest season and the coming of winter. Samhain marks the time of year when livestock were brought in from their summer grazing grounds. Celebrated with great feasts, the ancient Celtic people also traditionally lit enormous bonfires to keep away the spirits of the dead thought to ‘awaken’ during Samhain.
According to Celtic culture, the transitions between seasons are associated with spirits and fairies – when the boundaries between the worlds was at its weakest. The most significant time of the year for spirits was Samhain, when the boundary between our world and the world of the dead dissolved. This one night of the year, it is said that spirits and fairies could easily cross into our world.
To keep the spirits at bay, the people left out offerings, mostly food and drink (not unlike the ‘offerings’ given out during Halloween festivities), as well as a seat at the feast table, to appease these stowaway ancestors and fairies.
Inside the dark and eerie Owneygat Cave – sometimes called the Gateway to Hell (or the ‘other world’) when the doorway to the fairy world is open. Dare to come here at Halloween?!
The idea wasn’t to dress up as something (i.e. a pirate or vampire or Viking etc) but rather the practice of disguising oneself is a sort of countermeasure to hide from the spirits and fairies. Today largely practiced by children, disguises used to be worn by all. Common disguises were simple – covering oneself in soot, a boy wearing his sister’s clothes (or vice versa), turning clothing inside out, wearing a handmade mask made of sack or sheet, etc.
Though pumpkins are from North America, the practice of carving vegetables comes from Ireland. In the past during Samhain, long before pumpkins made their way to Europe, the Irish would have carved turnips (far more creepy than pumpkins!) in order to ward off the spirits.
It is said that the idea of Halloween was carried to the USA by Irish immigrants (much like St Patrick’s Day was as well), and over time, the holiday gradually changed to fit with the American idea of Halloween – which is where the elaborate costumes, scary movies and pumpkins came in.