Organising a Halloween party this year but want to make it a little different for your guests? Why not go back to Halloween’s pagan origins? Here are some ways to revive a few of the many traditions associated with 31 October, with a little help from the team at Matters Musical.
Celebrating Summer’s End
Halloween originated as the Celtic festival of Samhain, usually translated as “summer’s end” as the festival marked the start of winter. The Celts believed this was the day when the dead returned to earth, and whilst potentially destructive, the ghosts also allowed druids to forecast the future. Bonfires were lit, crops and animals burned as sacrifices, and flames from the scared fire taken back home to relit household fires for the winter.
Recreate with: a bonfire and a barbeque – go on, sacrifice those steaks!
An Apple For Pomona
The Romans, ever opportunistic when it came to community relations, merged this festival with two of their own, Feralia (a day of the dead) and the feast day for the goddess Pomona, goddess of fruit. That may be where the tradition of bobbing for apples came from.
Recreate with: bobbing for apples in a barrel, bucket or, for bigger parties, a paddling pool.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory declared that All Saints Day, celebrating saints and martyrs. This was celebrated with parades, bonfires and celebrants dressing up as saints, angels and devils. All Saints day was also called All-hallows, from Middle English, Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints Day, Hence the night before became All-hallows Eve, and in time, Halloween.
Recreate with: guests must dress as a saint, an angel or a devil, with a parade and awards for the best costume.
Trick Or Treat
Trick or treat also has its roots in a medieval Church festival, where the poor of the parish would beg for “soul cakes”, pastries given by families in return for the poor praying for their dead relatives. This developed into “going a-souling”, when children would visit neighbours and be given ale, food and money.
Recreate with: leave the kids behind and go for the cakes and ale!
Irish Samhain Foods
The festival of Samhain is still celebrated in Ireland, albeit infused with a healthy dose of the American style of Halloween. Traditional food served includes colcannon (a potato mash with vegetables) and bairin breac, a fruit cake with a ring hidden inside. This relates back to the belief of the ability on this day to foretell the future – whoever gets the ring will get married. Originally the cake included other items such as a pea (symbolising poverty), a bean (wealth) and a stick (domestic violence!).
Recreate with: traditional colcannon and fruit cake (without the stick…) served at your BBQ
Find Your True Love
Halloween was also a time for young women to try and discover the identity of their future husband using a variety of methods, including throwing hazelnuts into a fire to see which survived, tossing apple peel over the shoulder which might fall in the shape of the husband’s initials, and looking over their shoulders in darkened room to try and glimpse his face.
Recreate with: we like the idea of throwing apple peel around, and of course if it’s a party, who knows who you might glimpse over your shoulder!
Cue The Music
No Celtic festival would be complete without music and dancing. Keep your Halloween guests up and dancing until All Souls Day with a traditional ceilidh, where everyone gets to dance with almost everyone else.
Recreate with: a foot-stompingly good ceilidh band or energetic Irish band from Matters Musical. Find them all here at Matters Musical ceilidh