Irish Halloween Traditions

Posted by Ola Kosakowska on the 5th of November 2015 at 10:21:23

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With Halloween fast approaching, I thought I would share with you some traditional Irish Halloween activities, some of which are rooted in the Celtic world when Samhain – meaning “the end of summer” was celebrated over 2,000 years ago. The Celts marked the closing period of the Celtic year with bonfires, feasting and dressing up - all done to either encourage friendly spirits or dispel evil ones. As Christianity emerged and evolved within Irish society, November 1st became observed by the Catholic Church observed as All Saints Day or All Hallows and gradually October 31st became known as All Hallows Eve and then eventually Halloween.

So here are just some of the things we do in Ireland to celebrate this spooktacular time of year! Perhaps you recognize one or two of them!

Bon-fires - still a very common sight all over Ireland on Halloween night - bonfires were first used by the Celts to keep evil spirits away when the link between this world and the next was at its weakest. It was also thought that if you cut a lock of your hair and placed it in the fire, the face of your one true love would appear to you in the flames!


Trick or Treat - the origins of those are a little harder to trace, although they are most definitely rooted in Ireland’s Celtic past. Originally it was thought that as part of the Samhain celebrations, neighbors would play harmless tricks on each other perhaps moving a neighbor’s herd to another field without their knowledge. As Christianity spread, during the Medieval period, people would collect money by going door to door and offering to pray for the souls of the dead in return for food, with this gradually turning into calling at the homes of wealthier neighbours and asking for their contribution – such as food – towards the Halloween celebrations.

Dressing Up – this is thought to have derived from the Celtic tradition of dressing up to ward off any evil spirits that may be thinking of taking your soul! The Celts would dress in animal pelts and heads in a bid to scare off any malevolent spirits.

Kid dressed up

Barnbrack Cake – this is still a common sight in many Irish households at this time of year. Essentially it is sweet bread with mixed with fruit. Traditionally however, it also has some added ingredients such as a piece of rag (your financial future is unstable), a thimble (you will never marry), a coin (you will be rich) and a ring (you will marry within the year). Each member of the family would get a slice of the cake and if you found one of these items your fate would be sealed! Today it is probably more common to buy a brack rather than make it – but most will still contain a ring! Watch out for your teeth though!!

Snap Apple – the apple was viewed by the Celts as a symbol of fertility, as they would be collected after the end of a successful harvest. The importance of the apple then evolved into this children’s game. There are two variations– an apple would either be hung from a string or placed in a basin of water and then the children would try and take a bite from it while their hands are tied behind their back. The first person to get a piece of the apple will be the first to marry or alternatively any girl that takes a bite of the apple would put it under her pillow to dream of her future husband that night.

Jack-o-Lantern – the true origins of this one have been lost to the mists of time – however, there are two popular thoughts on where it may have originated. Firstly, it is thought that during Celtic times, people would take embers from the communal bonfire and bring them home in a hollowed out turnip to bring the good luck generated from the bonfire into their own home for the year ahead. However, there is a much later theory which dates to the 18th century, which says that a blacksmith called Jack made a pact with the devil. However, when he was refused entry into heaven and condemned to walk the earth for the rest of eternity, the devil gave him a light which he placed into a hollowed out turnip help him walk Ireland’s highways and byways. When the Irish emigrated to America, they adapted the tradition as turnips were hard to come by and used pumpkins instead!

So, what is your favorite Halloween tradition?

If you are excited by Halloween, why not check out our Haunted Hotels in Ireland!

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