The Irish Origins of Halloween

Did you know that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the only popular celebration that originated in Ireland? Many of our favorite Halloween traditions began in this popular European country. 

The Celtic tradition of Samhain began in Ireland and was observed on the last day of every October. The holiday began as a way to ward off the evil spirits said to roam on the day of Samhain, and included many of the same traditions that have lasted to the modern day: Dressing up, bobbing for apples, carving Jack-O-Lanterns and, of course, trick-or treating. 

Just like any ancient ritual, some elements of the tradition look a little bit different in the modern day. Here are the traditional Samhain festivities that you’ve never heard of, and ones you might be glad stayed in 9th century Ireland: 

Trick or Treating 

A bowl of candy

The “treats” from Trick or Treating weren’t always sweet ones. That custom was born more from necessity than celebration, where children would go door to door begging for food and Samhain festival supplies. 

Carving  Jack O’Lanterns

A faced carved into a pumpkin lit by an unseen candle

This modern Halloween favorite is linked back to an old Irish folktale about a man called “Stingy Jack“.  According to legend, Stingy Jack tricked the Devil on several occasions which caused him to lose his chance of an afterlife in both heaven and hell. He now roams the earth carrying a lantern made of coal in a hollowed out turnip. 

Eating Colcannon 

potatoes, cabbage and pumpkins at a market

Fitting for Ireland, the traditional dish of Halloween was a mixture of potatoes and cabbage. Colcannon is essentially a creamy mashed potato base with cabbage and raw onions. As part of the tradition, little gifts would be cooked into the potatoes that were said to predict your future. The only good omen among these gifts, though, was money; said to predict wealth. To this day, this dish is still a late October tradition in Ireland, where you may find prizes like rings, coins or thimbles hidden in the dish. 


A woman in a red dress twirling flames

On Samhain night, bonfires were used as a cleansing light to protect against evil, with people carrying the light taken from the fire through their property and into their homes. While large bonfires are now illegal in Ireland, many celebrate this tradition with fireworks and fire dancing shows. Many flock to the Derry Halloween Festival in Northern Ireland for their parade, fireworks and much more. 


Want to learn about this and many Irish traditions and folklore? There is no better way to take in all that Ireland has to offer than to visit it yourself. Start planning now with our cheap Aer Lingus student discounts to Dublin and beyond.


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