Hallowe’en – the modern festival that traces its origins back to the Celts and Ireland!

by Rose Barrett
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Finally it’s here, Halloween that is, a celebration that imploded over the past 40-50 years here in Ireland and Europe.

Halloween has been celebrated in the United States for over 100 years and it’s origins probably trace back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, with so many current traditions linked back to Ireland.

While we celebrate Hallowe’en on October 31, Samhain was celebrated on November 1.

People believed the eve of Samhain was a vulnerable time, when they bid farewell to the summer, and stepped into the dark, winter times – and the spirit world was ever present (All Souls Day in the Christian world).

The Celts lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III announced November 1 as a time to honour all saints and over time, All Saints Day adapted some of the traditions of Samhain.

The evening before which was All Souls Day became known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. IT was in the United States that Halloween took on the tradition of trick-or-treating, carving pumpins, wearing costumes, community festivals and fireworks.

However, many Hallowe’en traditions can be traced back to Ireland – carving scary faces on turnips, even beets and large potatoes were a tradition here in the 19th and 20th century and placed on doorsteps and window to ward off evil spirits and unwanted guests!

The Celts further believed in protecting crops and keeping spirits at bay. The Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. For the celebration, the Celts wore costumes with animal heads and skins, often attempted to tell each other’s fortunes or predict the year ahead for a good harvest, crops, etc.

Of course, banshees go hand and hand with Hallowe’en – it may will be a terrified neighbour’s cat but for years, we’ve believed the banshee was coming to claim someone ready to go to the ‘other side’!

As the Roman Empire advanced across Europe, many of the conquered Celtic areas combined Samhain and Roman celebrations, ‘Feralia’ being one, when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead in late October.

‘Pomona’, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees whose symbol is the apple, is probably the basis for apples in the barrel, and so many apple games linked to Hallowe’en.

Bram Stoker’s Dublin roots

Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker, the author of perhaps the world’s most famous evil spirit, Dracula,  was born in Clontarf in 1847. Dracula has fuelled so many myths and beliefs on vampires, and has become a major cult figure in contemporary film, theatre and literature.

Stokes spent much of his childhood in bed which may be where he ignited his imagination, his love of reading and a gift for writing.

He later excelled in athletics at Trinity College, where he graduated with an Honours degree in mathematics. He worked as a civil servant at Dublin Castle and as a part-time theatre critic.

In 1878 he married and moved to London, where he became the personal assistant to actor Henry Irving and also manager of the Lyceum Theatre. He travelled and mixed socially in the world of actors, theatre and writers.

He wrote twelve novels and numerous short stories, albeit none achieved the level of success of Dracula (1897), which was the result of Stokes’s interest in eastern European folklore and the macabre. Dracula has been translated into 30+ languages, and inspired over 150 films.

Vlad the Impaler

The main character Count Dracula’s persona is based  possibly on Vlad the Impaler, but also have derived its origins from the depraved sixteenth-century Hungarian-Transylvanian aristocrat Elizabeth Bathory. The latter  reputedly murdered up to 600 servants to bathe in their blood in a bid to protect her youth and restore her fading looks!

Whatever the origins, Stoker’s Dracula is the main character that has inspired a whole cult genre in vampies and the spirit world. As today is Hallowe’en, get out the garlic and hang the mirrors, put the crucifix out lest any vampires are coming your way.

Of course, Dublin has so many other creepy horror stories such as The Green Lady, The Hellfire Club, and lots more! Happy Hallowe’en!

Dublin continus its annual Bram Stoker Fesitval today: see below

Bram Stoker Festival

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