Happy Halloween – an Irish festival
Halloween dates back at least two thousand years to the Celtic festival of Samhain marking the start of winter, a cold, dark and dangerous time. It began at sunset on October 31st and ended at sunset on November 1st. It was believed that the souls of the dead came back at this time and it was common to visit each other’s homes and be offered food in exchange for prayers for the dead. It was also a festival of fire.Tradition has it that across Ireland fires were extinguished. A huge bonfire was lit on Tlachtga and people had to come and light their fires from this central fire. Tlachtga was the name of a druid priestess who gave her name to a hill near Tara, the royal site associated with the ancient High Kings of Ireland. This summer Irish archeologists discover evidence of intense burning at Tlachtga dating back to pre-Christian times.
In the Christian era the Pagan festival melded into a Church holy day celebrating All Saints. The day before became known as holy or hallowed eve – hence Halloween – and the traditions associated with it arrived in America mid 19th century with the flood of immigrants from Ireland.
And the pumpkin?
That’s much newer but, again, its origins are Irish. The story goes that a greedy blacksmith called Stingy Jack invited the devil to have a drink – as you do. Jack was reluctant to pay for it though and somehow convinced the devil to use his powers to help him out. The devil obliged and turned himself into a coin, but, instead of using it to pay for the drinks, Stingy Jack put it into his own pocket next to a silver cross, which stopped the devil from changing back into his original form. Eventually, Jack did let the devil go, played more tricks on him and secured a promise that the devil would not claim his soul when he died. The problem was that when the time came Heaven didn’t want Jack either. So, he was sent to wander in the darkness with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack used a carved out turnip as a makeshift lantern and put the everlasting coal inside. When the story of Jack O’ Lantern arrived in America it was found that pumpkins made much better lanterns than turnips. And were easier to carve…
photo credit: hjl via photopin cc