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Celebrating Halloween from an Irish Perspective

by Shane McCann

There was nothing funnier than seeing my 85 year old granny trying to take a bite out of an apple with her few wonky teeth.

Being Irish Halloween has been one of my favourite annual Holidays followed closely by Christmas and of course St Patrick's day.  I have very fond memories of celebrating Halloween since as far back as I can remember.  I would like to share some of those memories with you today.

Halloween has its origins in Ireland. It is no surprise therefore that a lot of Halloween customs and traditions originate there.  I always remember as a kid having a Halloween party which I would be looking forward to for weeks beforehand.  Our early Halloween parties always seemed to follow the same pattern. We would begin by having snacks and treats and of course my mum's delicious apple tart with money wrapped in tin foil hidden throughout it.  Anyone who got a coin or coins in their piece of tart got to keep it.  This custom of hiding money in tarts stems from an Irish fortune telling custom of placing a rag, a coin and a ring in a Barnbrack cake.  If you were served a slice with the rag that meant your financial future was in doubt, if you got the coin that meant the following year would be financially successful, if you got the ring that indicated impending romance or marriage. The apple tart follows on from that tradition without the fortune telling aspect and leaves everyone happy as long as they have a mother like mine who carefully ensures a coin was placed in every section of the tart.

Apples seem to be a theme in a lot of Halloween traditions. This is probably due to the fact that Halloween is celebrated straight after the apple harvest season. Apples were and still are a popular fruit in Ireland. Some of the Halloween games that I played as a child that involved apples included bobbing for apples and snap apple.  Bobbing for apples is a game that is synonymous with Halloween.  The rules of this game is that each player keeps their hands behind their back and then bending down tries to lift as many apples as they can out of a bowl of water using just their mouth.  Whoever lifts the most apples out within an allotted time wins. This game is said to originate from an old Irish fortune telling game: To find out who your future lover would be a young person would lift an apple with their mouth out of a bowl of water. They would then use a sharp knife to peel the apple in one long piece.  When they had done this they would throw the apple peel over their shoulder, the peel would then arrange itself on the ground in the first letter of the name of their future lover.  

The above Halloween game is based on a divination game, which is the origin of a lot of traditional Halloween games. The game of snap apple was also a staple at my early Halloween parties and obviously involves apples and is also a divination game.  In this game an apple is tied with a string and suspended from the ceiling.  Each of the players have their hands tied behind their back and the objective of the game is to see who can take a bite out of the apple first.  This game was originally a fortune telling game in the same vein as apple bobbing with the person who takes a bite out of the apple first being the person who is predicted to get married next.  As young kids we didn't play the game with the marriage fortune telling element but it was still great fun especially when we got the adults involved as well.  There was nothing funnier than seeing my 85 year old granny trying to take a bite out of an apple with her few wonky teeth.

After the Halloween party we would go outside to light the Halloween bonfire.  My dad, brother and I would spend the week leading up to Halloween building the bonfire, trying to find any pieces of wood and other materials that we could use, until we had built a bonfire of sufficient height to beat any of our neighbours bonfires.  Our dad would always have pride of place in lighting the bonfire.  The lighting of the bonfire was the climax to Halloween night, the big spectacle.  It was easily for me the highlight of Halloween and probably the memory that most sticks in my head.  My whole family standing around the bonfire, setting off fireworks, laughing and telling ghost stories under the dark sky lit night. 

By Shane McCann




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