Of course Hallowe’en was invented by the Irish. We are the finest purveyors of myth, magic and skullduggery on the planet, so when it comes to a festival full of trickery and mischief, you can bet we were behind it.
Samhain, as it is referred to as gaeilge (loosely translated as the end of summer), is like a Celtic New Years Eve, celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one. Traditionally, it was a time to celebrate the harvest and come together for a big hooley (as we say here). All the hard agricultural work was done and now it was time to literally enjoy the fruits of everyone’s hard labour. Large fires were lit as a symbol of light during the coming darkness, and every hearth had to be extinguished on that day and re-lit from the flames of the bonfire.
The Annals of the Four Masters (a record of medieval Irish history) shows that Samhain was celebrated in Ireland even before the birth of Christ. And although the Catholics got a hold of it and turned it into Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, even they couldn’t knock the fun out of it 🙂 However, it was also a time to remember and honour the dead, even before the Catholics came along. Food was often set out for loved ones who had departed, but it was a tricky time as you also had to avoid any other spirits that might not be up to any good. Samhain was seen as a kind of ‘nowhere’ time, neither part of the old year or the new. It was a night when spirits could cross the very thin veil between the dead and the living. Druids would wear masks to ward off evil spirits and people generally avoided graveyards and crossroads and any other place that might be a portal into the Underworld (there are more than you might think!)
Even Jack of the Lantern is Irish! As the story goes, he managed to get on the wrong side of the Devil and ended up spending his eternity running around the Irish countryside with a turnip lit by a lump of coal (as you do). Not to mention the big daddy of them all, Dracula, was penned by Irish author Bram Stoker – essential reading for this time of year.
So there you have it folks, the Irish are responsible for scaring the bejeezus out of everyone for centuries 🙂
And so to celebrate Samhain, you can download my short story Betwixt for free (I promise it’s not too scary… mwaahaahaha!)