Ireland Keeps Ancient Samhain Alive with Fiery Festival
Halloween is an ancient tradition that traces its origins back thousands of years. It is now a global festival, but this year, sadly, it won’t be observed in the usual way. However, the ancient festival of Samhain is still going to be celebrated with a spectacular event in Ireland and this is widely regarded as being the forerunner of the spooky holiday.
The origins of Halloween lay in the celebrations of the Celtic peoples of the British Isles and parts of Europe. At Ancient Origins we reported that ‘The Celts held a feast called Samhain – a celebration of the harvest, the end of summer and the turn of the year’. Samhain, pronounced as ‘sow-in,’ was based on the cycle of the pagan Wheel of the Year.
Celebrating Samhain, Hill of Ward, Ireland. (Púca Festival)
Samhain – The Origins of Halloween
Halloween is the shortened form of ‘All Hallows Evening’ when saints and the dead are commemorated by many Christians. During Samhain, the Celts believed that the dead walked the earth, and this is echoed in the Christian festival of All Hallows Evening. Scholars believe that the Celtic festival was Christianized and that this was crucial in the development of Halloween.
The pagans believed that it was possible for the living and the dead to communicate during Samhain. Feasts were held to honor the dead and this is the origin of modern practices such as eating nuts and candy at Halloween.
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In Ireland and many other areas, bonfires were lit in part as offerings to the spirits who walked the world during Samhain. It was also believed that the fires purified the land and gave it protection from supernatural forces. This year in Meath, Ireland people will once more light bonfires to celebrate the Celtic New Year. This is despite the fact that most of the country is under restrictions because of the current coronavirus.
Bonfires were lit as offerings to the spirits who were believed to cross into our world during Samhain. (Púca Festival)
Lighting Bonfires and Lamps
The ancient tradition of lighting fires will take place not far from Athboy, in County Westmeath. It will be held on the Hill of Ward, known in Irish as Tlachtga. Newgrange.com reports that this hill ‘was at Samhain night the centre of the Gaelic world. The place from which the light of the new year would first emanate.’ The event known as the Púca Festival is organized by Fáilte Ireland, the Irish Tourist Board.
They want people to enjoy the bonfires just as their ancestors did when they celebrated the end of the harvest and the coming of the New Year. The bonfires and the lighting of lamps on the Hill of Ward will be streamed live. Organizers have promised a spectacular event that is designed by a theatre company. The Irish Examiner called the bonfires a ‘contemporary reimagining of the Samhain Fires.’
The end of the harvest and the coming of the New Year were celebrated with Samhain bonfires. (CC0)
Fiery Display to Celebrate Celtic Ireland
The five ancient provinces of Celtic Ireland will be celebrated, and they will be united symbolically in a fiery display on Halloween night. There will also be music and poetry by local artists and ‘the iconic lighting of the Samhain fires caps off an ethereal night of authentic Halloween magic,’ reports the Irish Examiner. The organizers hope that the festival will bring some cheer to people at this difficult time.
Ms. Ciara Sugrue, who works for Fáilte Ireland told the Irish Examiner that Samhain “is a celebration that has taken place for hundreds of years and which will bring a little bit of the excitement and fun back into our lives this Halloween.”
The difficult circumstances of the year allow people to celebrate Halloween in new ways and to revive old traditions. The Irish Examiner quotes Ms. Sugrue as saying that “This year is a perfect year for all of us to rediscover the wonderful old games and traditions that we all grow up with, from bobbing for apples to Bairín Breac.” The latter is a traditional cake eaten at Halloween. People are being encouraged to light a Jack O’Lantern and reflect during the festival.
You can watch the event live by logging on to the following Facebook page. The celebrations will begin with a torchlight procession to the Hill of Wards. Then the lighting of the bonfires and the lanterns will take place, the highpoint of the night.
A torchlight procession to the Hill of Wards on Samhain. (Púca Festival)
Every effort has been made by the organizers to make it as authentic as possible. However, the modern celebration of Samhain may not please everyone as many pagans believe that it trivializes a very important spiritual festival.
Top image: A modern Samhain celebration in Ireland. Source: Irish Examiner
By Ed Whelan