IRISH HALLOWEEN TRADITIONS and Samhain History

The Irish Jewelry Company's Blog

Samhain greeting card

The Celts celebrated Halloween as Samhain, ‘All Hallowtide’ – the ‘Feast of the Dead’, when the dead revisited the mortal world. The celebration marked the end of Summer and the start of the Winter months.

During the eighth century the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as ‘All Saints Day’ (‘All Hallows’) – a day of commemoration for those Saints that did not have a specific day of remembrance. The night before was known as ‘All Hallows Eve’ which, over time, became known as Halloween.

Here are the most notable Irish Halloween Traditions:

Colcannon for Dinner:
Boiled Potato, Curly Kale (a cabbage) and raw Onions are provided as the traditional Irish Halloween dinner. Clean coins are wrapped in baking paper and placed in the potato for children to find and keep.

The Barnbrack Cake:
The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barnbrack which is a fruit bread…

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The Celtic Owl

The word “cailleach” in the Scottish-Gaelic means old woman!, Owl in Gaelic is “cauileach-oidhche”  , believe it or not it means “night-cockerel” or “white old woman of the night.”  Because the owl was most often associated with the Crone aspect of the Celtic Hag Goddess “Cailleach”. The owl is often a guide to and through the Underworld, a creature of keen sight in darkness, and a silent and swift hunter. Celtic folklore says the wise owl can give you wisdom by helping unmask those who would deceive you or take advantage of you. “Hoo” knew?

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The Origins of Samhain and Its Traditions

Halloween originated with an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween or Sow-in). The Celtic New Year began on November 1. On the last day of the Celtic year, October 31, the Celts believed that ghosts roamed the world that night, causing harm to crops and creating mischief. So on October 31, the Celts dressed in scary costumes, parading around the village in the hopes of scaring away the mischievous spirits.

When Christianity arrived in Ireland, the church named November 1 as All Saints Day to honor saints and martyrs in an attempt replace or over shadow Samhain. Trick-or-treating originated from an All Souls Day tradition. People walked from village to village begging for “soul cakes.” In exchange for the “soul cakes,” a prayer would be said for the giver of the bread. The more bread they gave away the more people they had praying for their souls. In the 1500s, All Saint’s Day becomes All Hallows’ Day, and Samhain had become known as All Hallows’ Evening. Then eventually Hallow Evening became Halloween.

Irish Halloween Folklore….. Have you ever heard of a pooka?

The “Pooka” or in Irish púca (Irish for spirit/ghost), is primarily a goblin like creature in traditional Irish folklore. The pooka is considered to be both a bringer of good and bad fortune. The pooka could 994613_10153357225920245_1508916101_neither help or hinder rural and mariner communities. The goblin like creatures were said to be shape shifters which could take the appearance of black horses, goats and rabbits.

Celtic Autumn Equinox

September 23rd, the Autumn Equinox. To Celts – this is the Second Harvest, when the ripe Acorns fall from the wild Irish Oaks and we plant them in fertile soil. This wonderful time is the time when day and night are equal in length. Equinox meaning “equal night”.knowth-ireland

In Ireland there is an ancient Irish equinox temple at Knowth, near Newgrange (Brú na Boinne). Knowth has a 100-foot long passage that only is light by the Sun on the morning of the Spring and Autumn Equinox.

The Irish Banshee

The Banshee,  bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys and the Kavanaghs. Intermarriage has since extended this select list.220px-Banshee
Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.) She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman).
Although not always seen, her mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die.