Halloween, Oíche Shamhna at the Museum of Childhood Ireland

A Tale as Old as Time! Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833. It was inspired by a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832.

Halloween 2005 was a witchy affair in my house

Halloween began as a pagan celebration over 2,000 years ago in Ireland as part of a festival known as ‘Samhain’. Traditionally celebrated on the 31st of October – 1st November, the Celtic festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the annual harvest and the coming of Winter. Samhain consisted of many different acts and rituals, and created what we now know as Halloween! 

Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…

It is almost October 31st, and that can mean only one thing – Halloween is almost here! It is a time that holds great memories for so many of us – an excuse to dress up in costume, and knock on stranger’s doors only to be rewarded with tasty treats – and hopefully not terrible tricks!

Halloween is a firm favourite for children, and it is the games, the fun, the sweets and the costumes which make it so memorable. Halloween, or Hallowed Evening, of course, has its roots in Pagan traditions. In Ireland too, Halloween has so much more gravitas as a cultural and historical phenomenon, with different rites, ceremonies and rituals which have been passed down from generation to generation.

This may include lighting candles in windows to guide the spirits into the next world, baking barm brack* (and fighting to be the first to find the hidden ring!), carving pumpkins or digging for tinfoil wrapped coins buried deep inside the colcannon mash. And who could forget apple bobbing!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barmbrack

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colcannon

However nowadays we are somewhat more familiar with the more commercial side of Halloween, and the yearly dressing up seems to have taken over as the most eagerly anticipated element of the celebration, and I was no different growing up. When I was younger, between the Harry Potter movies and the tv series The Worst Witch, I think there may have been only two years where I didn’t don the pointy hat on October 31st.

Nevermore!

I remember the excitement in school of talking with friends, debating and discussing what we would be going as that year, and sharing tips on the best routes to maximise chocolate collection. I remember, too, that there was one house in my local town in Meath that always put on a fantastic show at Halloween, with lights, decorations, stuffed figures and creepy creaking, screaming and wailing blasted from large speakers. We would always be so afraid to ring the doorbell, not sure if the figures were people dressed in costume or just fake, fearing that they would jump out at us if we got too close!

It is the spookiest season of the year and I can already feel the witchy thrill in the air… Maybe you are digging out your pointed hat, dusting off your broomsticks already and feeding your black cat?

Or maybe you are finding inspiration in Irish legends and mythology? This year I’ve elected to go as Queen Meadbh (Maeve) with her prize brown bull of Cooley! The possibilities are endless.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medb

Find a children’s version here:

https://www.books.ie/the-big-fight-flyer-3

We would love to hear from you, to see images from your Halloweens past, how you used to dress up and what you remember about your trick or treating days.

We would also love to hear from children far and wide – what are you dressing up as this year? What are you most excited for? Is your Halloween different from that of your parents and grandparents? Ask them!

Do you play games, cast spells to try to predict the future?

And finally, a big question of heavy debate – what is the best possible treat to get in your bag this October 31st?

Majella from the museum with her cat Beelzebub!

Send us your stories, snaps and spooky tales at community@museumofchildhood.ie or on any of our social media sites: Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If you dare! We would love to hear from you!

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh!

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By Chloe Browne

Chloe Browne is an Irish writer, curator and Art Historian, with a keen interest in objects and social history.