The Day After Samhain – All Soul’s Day
There are many traditions in Ireland that date back centuries and many of them are still very important to many people. All Saint’s Day or the day after Halloween on the 1st of November is not only the first day of the new year in the old Celtic calendar but is a Christian fest day. The Celtic year had four seasons and they are,
Imbolc: 1st February
Beltaine: 1st May
Lughnasa: 1st August
Samhain: 1st November
But to understand the Celtic Calendar we have to put everything into context. Halloween was called Samhain and it was on of the most important festivals for Celts. It was a festival of fire and was celebrated from the evening of the 31st of October and all day on the 1st of November. As part of the celebrations the flames of the fires had to be put out and relit by druids.
This signified a rebirth, by putting out the fire you were leaving go of the old year and the relighting of the fire symbolized the start of the new year. It was a time to celebrate the harvest when all the crops had been gathered and stored away for the winter and when animals were brought in from grazing and were either slaughtered for their meat of kept for breeding the following year.
Like so many cultures all around the world the Celts looked at Samhain as a time when the spirits of their dead loved ones would visit their homes but it also meant a time when some evil spirits roamed the earth wanting to cause mischief. Puka, banshees, fairies and other spirits could come and go quite freely. This is where the scary tales of Halloween come from.
In an attempt to frighten away these evil doers massive bonfires were built and people dressed up in fearsome masks and costumes which were meant to confuse the evil spirits so that they could not inflict any harm on them. Loud noises were made in an attempt to frighten away the spirits but it was often said that leaving some food close to hawthorn bushes would pacify the spirits and they would leave you alone for the coming year.
They believed that a visit from the spirits of their loved ones, would pass on their wisdom and knowledge and that this was the reason for their return. It was during these visits that the Celts believed that they were given the gift to remember the old days and the understanding of how their families are linked not only in the past but also into the future.
In later years when Christianity came to Ireland, in order to make the spirits of their loved ones feel welcome houses were cleaned and was warmed by a big fire. The fire poker and tongs were placed on the hearth in the shape of the cross and a bowl of water was placed on the table and a place set for each of the departed. The front door of the house was always left unlatched. In some parts of Ireland kids would go to their neighbours and ask for cake and in return prayers would be said for the family.
A visit to the family grave was also an important part of the tradition on the 1st of November where prayers would be said and a candle would be left burning in their remembrance.
It is very important to remember that many of our festivals derive from ancient tradition and are not a modern day invention. We are very lucky here in Ireland that we have a rich and varied heritage and we should embrace it at every step along the way.
As George Bernard Shaw said “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future”.
The National Folklore Collection, which is managed at University College Dublin, has published a free booklet for Halloween 2015 containing old Irish tales, legends and customs. Download your copy HERE