Forget St. Patrick’s Day: Halloween Has Irish Origins, Too

An eerie orange moon casts its spell, conjuring thoughts of Halloween’s enchanting allure – Photo: Neven Krcmarek | Unsplash

Fall has arrived, bringing with it the familiar comforts of pumpkin spice lattes and apple-filled desserts, as well as the excitement for Halloween, a beloved holiday celebrated in many parts of the world.

Halloween sparks thoughts of costumes and candy, ghosts and ghouls, but have you ever wondered about its origins? You might be surprised to learn that this festive holiday has its roots in Irish culture.

The Festival of Samhain

Halloween’s origins come from the festival of Samhain (pronounced “saw-wen”), which is traditionally celebrated from October 31 to November 1.

This Celtic festival was created to celebrate the end of the harvest season and usher in winter. This time of year was (and still is today) also considered the one time when spirits can pass from the physical world to the world of the dead.

Pope Gregory III decreed during the eighth century that November 1 would be the day to honor saints (it later became known as All Saints’ Day). The previous evening would become known as All Hallows’ Eve.

The festival of Samhain is celebrated with feasting and massive bonfires that are meant to keep the spirits of the dead, which were thought to awaken during the festival, at bay.

Where Does the Candy Come From?

In addition to lighting bonfires, the Celtic people also left out offerings of food and drink to help keep the spirits away. They also left a seat at the feast table open just in case any spirits got offended and decided to cause problems during their brief visit.

While the tradition has morphed into one of handing out candy to children who come to your door, you can see where the idea of offering food originated.

What About the Costumes?

During the festival of Samhain, people dressed up to hide themselves from spirits and confuse those who might be looking to harm a specific person.

The disguises were much simpler than the elaborate costumes of today. For example, one might cover themselves in soot, wear a sibling of the opposite gender’s clothing, or even just turn their clothes inside out.

Did Anyone Carve Pumpkins?

Carving vegetables— not pumpkins, as they originate in North America— has long been associated with the festival of Samhain. The Irish actually carved turnips to ward off spirits!

Where does the name “Jack O’ Lantern” come from? Legend has it that a man named Stingy Jack repeatedly draped the Devil and let him go only after he promised that Jack would not go to hell.

When Jack eventually died, he learned that he was not accepted into heaven and was sentenced to wander the earth as a ghost. The Devil then gave Jack a burning lump of coal in a carved turnip to help him light his way.

Black and Orange Decor

During the Halloween season, you see plenty of black and orange decorations in stores and inside and outside people’s homes. These colors can also be traced back to the festival of Samhain.

The color black represented the death of summer, whereas the color orange represented the autumn harvest season.

When Did Halloween Come to America?

Settlers brought various European traditions, including Halloween traditions, with them when they came to the United States.

In colonial New England, Halloween celebrations were limited because of the residents’ rigid Protestant beliefs. In Maryland and the southern colonies, though, it was much more popular.

Over the years, the celebrations morphed into a more uniquely American holiday. Things really kicked off in the second half of the 19th century when Irish immigrants fled to the United States in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine.

Halloween 2023 and Beyond

This year, when you celebrate Halloween, take some time to reflect on its origins. The holiday has a fascinating history, and knowing where it came from makes the celebration even sweeter!