Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some Halloween History


Halloween is a widely celebrated cultural event in Ireland. It is known in Irish as Oíche Shamhna (Irish pronunciation: [ˈiːhə haunˠə] ee-hah how-nah), literally "Samhain Night." In Irish, Samhain is the name for the month of November. The medieval Irish festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest, heralding shorter days and the "darker half" of the year. It is linked to the dead revisiting the mortal world, large communal bonfires and associated lore.

A traditional Irish turnip (rutabaga) jack-o'-lantern, c. early 20th century, on display in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.

On Halloween night, adults and children dress up as creatures from the underworld (e.g., ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches, and goblins), light bonfires, and enjoy spectacular fireworks displays – in particular, the city of Derry is home to the largest organized Halloween celebration on the island, in the form of a street carnival and fireworks display.

Houses are frequently adorned with pumpkins, or traditional turnip carved into scary faces; lights or candles are sometimes placed inside the carvings, resulting in an eerie effect. The traditional Halloween cake in Ireland is the barmbrack, which is a fruit bread. The Halloween Brack traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a fortune-telling game. In the barmbrack were a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence), and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, "to beat one's wife with," would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be married within the year. Commercially produced barmbracks for the Halloween market still include a toy ring.

Games are often played, such as bobbing for apples, in which apples, peanuts, and other nuts and fruit and some small coins are placed in a basin of water. The apples and nuts float, but the coins, which sink, are harder to catch. Everyone takes turns catching as many items possible using only their mouths. In some households, the coins are embedded in the fruit for the children to "earn" as they catch each apple. Another common game involves the hands-free eating of an apple hung on a string attached to the ceiling. Games of divination are also played at Halloween, but are becoming less popular. Lunchtime (the midday meal, sometimes called "dinner" in Ireland, on Halloween is called Colcannon.



Similar to the United Kingdom, Halloween is today associated with anti-social behaviour with October 31st being the busiest day of the year for the Emergency Services.Bangers and fireworks are illegal in the Republic of Ireland; however, they are commonly smuggled in from Northern Ireland where they are legal. Bonfires are common place around major cities around Halloween.Trick-or-treating is common amongst children on October 31st and Halloween parties and events are commonplace.


In Scotland it refers to the medieval festival of Samhain in Scottish Gaelic as Oidhche Shamhna, the "Summer's night." During the fire festival, souls of the dead wander the Earth and are free to return to the mortal world until dawn. Traditionally, bonfires and lanterns (samhnag in Scottish Gaelic) would be lit to ward off the phantoms and evil spirits that emerge at midnight.

The name Halloween is first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even, that is, the night before All Hallows Day. All observances of Halloween made an application to the agency of evil spirits, and Dumfries poet John Mayne's 1780 poem made note of pranks at Halloween; "What fearfu' pranks ensue!", as well as the supernatural associated with the night, "Bogies" (ghosts). Eminent Scottish poet Rabbie Burns was influenced by Maynes composition, and portrayed some of the customs in his poem Halloween (1785). According to Burns, Halloween is "thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are all abroad on their baneful midnight errands".

Traditional customs and lore include divination practices, ways of trying to predict the future. By the 18th century, most of the customs were methods for young people to search for their future husbands or wives. A traditional Scottish form of divining one's future spouse is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future spouse's name.

Children who ventured out carried a candle-lit lantern (samhnag) carved with a devilish face to frighten away faeries (sídhe, or sìth, in modern Gaelic) or evil spirits. Such Halloween lanterns were made from a turnip, or "neep" in Lowland Scots. In modern times, pumpkins are used, as in North American traditions, possibly because it is easier to carve a face into a pumpkin than into a turnip.

If children approached the door of a house, they were given offerings of food (Halloween being a harvest festival), which served to ward off the potential spirits that may lurk among them. The children's practice of "guising" (derived from "disguising"), going from door to door in supernatural-themed costumes for food or coins, is a traditional Halloween custom in Scotland and Ireland. Among the earliest record of Guising at Halloween in Scotland is in 1895, where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money.

A traditional Halloween game includes apple "dooking", or "dunking" or (i.e., retrieving one from a bucket of water using only one's mouth), and attempting to eat, while blindfolded, a treacle/jam-coated scone hanging on a piece of string.




Halloween is largely celebrated in the same manner between the two countries of Canada and the United States. In the United States, where lingering Puritan tradition restricted the observance of many holidays, Halloween did not become a holiday until the 19th century. American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries do not include Halloween in their lists of holidays. The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1849) finally brought the holiday to the United States. Scottish emigration, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought the Scottish version of the holiday to each country. The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street "guising" on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs.

American librarian and author Ruth Edna Kelley wrote the first book length history of the holiday in the U.S; The Book of Hallowe'en (1919), and references souling in the chapter Hallowe'en in America; "All Hallowe'en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries. The taste in Hallowe'en festivities now is to study old traditions, and hold a Scotch party, using Burn's poem Halloween as a guide; or to go a-souling as the English used. In short, no custom that was once honored at Hallowe'en is out of fashion now". The main event for children and teenagers of modern Halloween in the United States and Canada is trick-or-treating, in which children, teenagers, (sometimes) young adults, and parents (accompanying their children) disguise themselves in costumes and go door to door in their neighborhoods, ringing each doorbell and yelling "Trick or treat!" to solicit a gift of candy or similar items.

Irish-American and Scottish-American societies held dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns' poem Halloween or a telling of Irish legends, much as Columbus Day celebrations were more about Italian-American heritage than Columbus per se. Home parties centred on children's activities, such as apple bobbing, and various divination games often concerning future romance. Not surprisingly, pranks and mischief were common as well.

At the turn of the 20th century, Halloween had turned into a night of vandalism, with destruction of property and cruelty to animals and people.Around 1912, the Boy Scouts, Boys Clubs, and other neighborhood organizations came together to encourage a safe celebration that would end the destruction that had become so common on this night. School posters during this time called for a "Sane Halloween." Children began to go door to door, receiving treats, rather than playing tricks on their neighbors. This helped to reduce the mischief, and by the 1930s, "beggar's nights" had become very popular. Trick-or-treating became widespread by the end of the 1930s.


The commercialization of Halloween in the United States did not start until the 20th century, beginning perhaps with Halloween postcards (featuring hundreds of designs), which were most popular between 1905 and 1915. Dennison Manufacturing Company (which published its first Halloween catalog in 1909) and the Beistle Company were pioneers in commercially made Halloween decorations, particularly die-cut paper items. German manufacturers specialized in Halloween figurines that were exported to the United States in the period between the two World Wars.

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