The Origins of Halloween

What is the history of halloween? What did the first Halloween costumes look like? And how to put together the perfect Celtic feast.
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Olivia Higgs
Oct 31
2.5 mins
Oct 31
2.5 mins

What's the history behind Halloween?

Halloween originally began in Ireland with an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced “sou-when”) which was on 1st November but celebrations would start the evening before. Samhain was a festival for remembering those who’ve passed away. It was believed that during this time the barrier between the world of the living and the after life was at its weakest and that ancestors would cross over. So people would leave out food and put a candle in their window so that past family members could find their way home.

The first Halloween costumes

There was always the worry that evil spirits might also cross over during this time so people would carve scary faces into turnips and potatoes to ward off these evil spirits. When Irish immigrants went to the United Stated they then switched to pumpkins which are native to America and are a lot less fiddly to carve. Other traditions developed where people would make masks from old flour bags to scare the neighbours or play halloween pranks which traditionally would be blamed on the fairies being up to no good. Other games were created like apple bobbing since the harvest was in and so there were plenty of apples, berries and nuts about.

You then started to see the influence of Christianity spread across Ireland by the 9th century. It is believed the church was trying to replace this Celtic festival with its own holiday All Saints’ Day on 1st November to honour saints who have reached heaven. So the evening before All Saints’ otherwise known as 'the hallowed ones’ (hallowed meaning sacred or holy in old English) became All Hallow’s Eve which was eventually shortened to Halloween.

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Putting together a Samhain feast

If you want to put together your own Celtic feast for Samhain, turn your attention to seasonal produce. Since Samhain is at the time of the last harvests before winter, a great place to start is to head to your local farms of farmers' markets for inspiration. Now we're in the cooler months, you want comforting, hearty dishes which will do a nice job of warming you from the inside out. Parsnips, squashes, leeks and potatoes are all great candidates for roasting and caramelising in the oven - think slow cooked stews, casserole dishes and soups. When thinking about what flavours to bring to your dishes, warming herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage work well with heaps of garlic or you can introduce warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. You can't go wrong with a shepherd's pie or a classic Irish beef stew but since this is a festival to honour our ancestors, a great way of doing just that is to turn to recipes which have been in your family for generations. Of course the feasting table isn't complete without a steaming loaf of bread sat in the middle, like a traditional Irish soda bread or a Barmbrack (a yeast bread with sultanas and raisins, often with a trinket hidden inside which brings good luck if you find it in your slice). Happy feasting!

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