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You Can Thank the Irish for Halloween

Many people think of Halloween as a distinctly American holiday, but it is very much an Irish invention. It may surprise some to learn that Halloween was never celebrated in America until after the arrival of the Irish in the early 1800s. No nation has had more of an influence over modern-day Halloween celebrations than the Irish. Several different Halloween myths, beliefs, and customs all come from the pagans of ancient Ireland.

Today, Halloween is celebrated all over the world, but with a particular robustness in North America. Halloween’s origins lie in the pagan Celtic festival of ‘Samhain,’ stretching back thousands of years. Samhain (pronounced Sowan) was observed from the evening of the 31st of October to November 1st, with a big fire, which marked the end of the harvest season and signaled the official transition from summer into the long, dark, cold winter.

For the Celts, Samhain was very spiritual. They believed that during the festival of Samhain, the door between this world and the next was fully opened. This meant that the dead could return to the land of the living and their souls could walk the earth. However, entry was also granted to a slew of supernatural beings from the other world, many of them destructive and malevolent. The Celts lit big fires to drive away the evil spirits and wore scary dresses and masks to resemble spirits and avoid being taken away to the underworld. This is how the tradition of dressing up on Halloween began.

After successfully tricking the spirits, people would go door to door while still in costume. They would dance, sing, or recite poems at people’s doors in exchange for food and drink. You can always count on the Irish to produce some valid reasons to get together and celebrate. Happy Halloween everybody!

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