Halloween, or Hallowe’en as we spell it on the old sod, is a word derived from All Hallows Eve. This refers to the day before All Saints (Hallows) Day, November 1st, which is a Roman Catholic Holy Day of Obligation. It’s a day where Christian saints and martyrs are remembered and has been celebrated in Catholicism since the Middle Ages. The Hallowe’en rituals of bonfires (symbolizing the plight of lost souls in purgatory) and “souling” (going door-to-door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for “soul cakes”) have long been practiced as a tandem observance of All Saints Day and All Souls Day ( which falls on November 2nd, and incidentally is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation !). In later years the tradition of dressing up and play acting was added as part of the celebrations.
Some people also believe that Hallowe’en has evolved from a pagan observance in the Celtic lands of Ireland and Scotland. However, there is no direct historical evidence that this is the case. The pagan holiday was called “Samhain” ( which means end of summer). It was celebrated around the end of October/ beginning of November and was marked with bonfires, feasting, sacrificial offering and remembrance of the dead. It was a very important date in ancient Ireland.
There are some historians who think that Catholicism introduced All Saints Day as a way of “Christianizing” this pagan holiday. Again, there is no evidence that this is true.
Hallowe’en was introduced to the US in the 1800 when there was a flood of Irish immigrants in the years of the famine. A few changes were made to the holiday, a prominent one being pumpkin carving. Pumpkins were’t common in Ireland, so people actually carved out turnips as their jack-O-Lanterns! Pumpkins were much more plentiful on this side of the pond, not to mention being much easier to carve out!
As a child growing up in Ireland, kids dressed up and went trick or treating. However, we weren’t getting candy hauls…. people offered peanuts (monkey nuts) in their shells or small apples! We ate Barmbrack ( a light fruit cake with charms inserted) and played games like bobbing for apples!
Things have changed since “my day” ( now I sound old lol), and there is more candy treats distributed than apples and nuts. Some people decorate their houses with cobwebs and pumpkins, but not to the extent that we see here in the States. I’m not sure if they have discovered pumpkin pie yet, I’ll have to ask!!