Halloween traditions like carving Pumpkins and dressing up in ghoulish costumes can be traced back to the Ancient Irish Samhain festival.Samhain marked the end of summer and of the harvest season and the beginning of a cold winter.
The dead were honoured as they passed over into the spirit world. It was believed the barrier between the living and the spirit realm was thought to be at its thinnest on this eve and the dead could return.
The community would gather around huge bonfires dressed up in elaborate animal skins and heads to ward off any evil spirits.If the spirits happened to bump into one of the people in disguise they might think they were spirits too, and leave them be.
Long before pumpkins were used as lanterns, people carved ghoulish faces into turnips and left them in doorways to frighten away evil spirits.There are two versions of the story that this tradition originated from.
The first is an ancient Celtic tradition to carry home an ember from the communal bonfire. People hollowed out a turnip and walked home with the ember still burning. They could then light the fire at home with the embers for good luck.
The spookier version is that Jack-o-lanterns were named after an Irish blacksmith who was denied entry to Heaven for colluding with the Devil and was condemned to walk the earth for eternity. When Jack asked the Devil for some light. He was given a burning coal that he put into a hollowed out Turnip and this was his Lantern.
When the Irish emigrated to America there was not an abundance of turnips so pumpkins were used and were also much easier to carve.
Along with decorating with pumpkins, traditional spooky decorations often depict black cats (associated with witches) and bats and can also be traced back to Samhain.The large bonfires attracted insects and this attracted bats, which soon became associated with the festival. Bats also swarm and migrate at this time of year. Bram Stoker's Dracula depicted vampires shapeshifting into bats. Animals that are nocturnal were often associated with dark arts and death reinforcing the idea that our pollinating, pest controlling bat friends were spooky.
However you are celebrating, we wish you a blessed Samhain and a Happy Halloween.
Oíche Shamhna shona duit, bí cúramach faoin púca!
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