Samhain – Origins of Hallowe’en

Halloween Turnip

Each year on the 31st of October we celebrate Hallowe’en. The festival of Hallowe’en has very close links with Ireland that dates back thousands of years. In ancient times Hallowe’en was known as Samhain. The ancient Festival of Samhain was a celebration of the end of summer and harvest and also the beginning of winter.

The ancient Irish saw this time of the year as the end of old year and beginning of the New Year just like their harvest. They also believed that during Samhain the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, which meant that the spirits of the dead could once again walk the earth. The people believed that some of these spirits could be troublesome so they built huge bonfires and wore costumes to scare off any unwanted spirits. They would also carve scary faces out of turnips and place a piece of charcoal inside. These carved turnips were known as Jack-O-Lanterns after an old Irish story about a man named Jack O’Lantern who played a number of tricks on the devil. When Jack passed away God was unhappy with Jack for interacting with the devil so he wouldn’t let him in to heaven. The devil would not let Jack into hell as he was so mad with him for tricking him so many times. Jack was sentenced to roam the earth in eternal night with a burning coal inside a carved out turnip.

As the years passed many Irish began to leave Ireland and start a new life in America. Even though the Irish had settled far away in America they still celebrated the old Irish festival of Samhain each year after the harvest. They found pumpkins as an ideal fruit for carving and started to use the pumpkins for the Jack-O-Lanterns. They also still had bonfires and parties and shared the fruits and nuts from their harvest.

Hallowe’en today still has many of the traditions form old Ireland. Many Places have bonfires and people still dress up in customs. Trick or treat that children take part in is just like the old custom of sharing the harvest and of course we all still carve our pumpkins and place a candle inside just like the Jack O Lantern of long ago.

Click here to check out the National Museum of Ireland (National Folklife Collection) for more information on the traditions surrounding the Samhain Festival