If you like Halloween with an honestly spooky edge, just learn a bit about where it came from and you’ll find youself thinking about spirits in a new way as the sun goes down on October 31st.

celtic halloweenHalloween is the one major holiday that the Irish can truly claim they invented. Going all the way back to pagan times in Ireland, the festival of Samhein (pronounced “so-en,” it means “summer’s end”) was celebrated on November 1st. It was a believed that on this special night, the wall between our world and the spirit world was unusually thin, and spirits came back from the dead, looking for live bodies to inhabit.

Wild Wandering Spirits
The fear of being chosen by these spirits is behind most of our modern Halloween practices. In the old days, on Samhein all Celtic folk would do everything they could to make their homes seem uninviting. Fires and lights were all put out so spirits would not be attracted. People dressed in costumes not to get a laugh as we do today, but to make themselves unrecognizable and unappealing to all the spirits wandering the night.

In about the 8th century A.D., The Catholic Church did what it had done with other pagan fesitvals it couldn’t get Irish people to stop celebrating, and “Christianized” Samhain, turning it into a memorial for All Saints or All Souls. Perhaps to make the transition easier, The Church called it the feast of all Hallows, or Halloween. That way, a connection to the holiday’s focus on the dead wasn’t lost.

Bringing Halloween To America
Both Irish and Scottish immigrants to the U.S. helped to establish Halloween as a popular festival here. Not everyone was happy about it — the Puritans of New England were staunchly opposed to it, just as they were opposed to Christmas. Initially celebrated only in immigrant communities here, it gradually became a more widespread secular and multi-ethnic festival, ultimately creating huge parades, Hell Night in Detroit, a massive costume industry and a big business for pumpkin farmers.

Some customs that Irish-Americans practice relating to Halloween:
Barnbrack: A fruitcake with strange, symbolic charms, including a ring, baked into is served on Halloween. If a girl gets a slice with the ring in it, it’s believed she will soon marry. Anyone who gets a button will remain unmarried. But if you get a coin, you are about to have a life of wealth.

A Long Apple Peel: To find out who you will marry, you should try to peel an apple into a single long strand. If you pull this off, you are supposed to take the long peel and throw it over your shoulder. The letter that the peel most closely resembles when it lands on the floor will tip you off about who you are going to marry.

Happy Celtic Halloween!

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