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Spooky Samhain Traditions for an Irish Halloween

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Halloween, like a great many things in the USA, Canada and Australia, has roots in Ireland.  The holiday is one of many cultural Irish gifts now enjoyed around the world.  Before our modern celebration of all things ghoulish and ghastly, there was Samhain, the Celtic New Year.  In pre-Christian Ireland, the belief was that as one year ended and the next began, the veil between the living and the dead was thinner and more porous.  The ancient Celts did not believe the dearly departed really went all that far, but rather stayed close to home, unseen and unnoticed… for most of the year that is.

Samhain was also a time for predicting the future, fortune telling being one of our less tangible Irish gifts.  As the old year gave way to the new, our Celtic ancestors were on the lookout for signs of what was to come.  The harvest was in, and it was time to start thinking of the year ahead.  Some of the old fortune-telling traditions were still an essential part of Halloween up to 50 years ago, and they have not died out completely.

  • Barmbrack is a traditional fruit bread for Halloween (and one of the tastiest Irish gifts you can bring to a Halloween party).  Each round loaf traditionally contained a ring, a thimble, a coin, and a bit of (clean) rag.  As the loaf was sliced and shared, everyone would be eager to see if their slice had one of these tokens offering a sneak preview of the coming year. The ring is for love, the thimble symbolizes a year without a soul mate, the coin is for prosperity, and the rag for money worries.
  • The traditional Irish Halloween meal is colcannon, a dish of mashed potatoes with onions and kale.  In some areas, the ring, thimble, coin and rag were put into this dish as well as the barmbrack.
  • Tea leaf reading was another popular way of telling fortunes enjoyed year round.
  • The banshee is famous for wailing, but only with a reason.  Her cries foretold death, usually a violent death.  These fearsome spirits are more often heard than seen, and when they do appear they take the form of a woman wearing a hood. Often the banshee appears as an old woman, but sometimes she is young or anywhere in between.

If you are looking for Irish gifts for the Halloween season, a barmbrack or a tea set with some loose tea for reading the leaves is perfect.  And you can’t go wrong if you include some lovely Irish kitchenware with that barmbrack.

It’s always nice to bring something along for the host or to share when you are going to a party.  Halloween has its roots in Ireland, so Irish gifts make complete sense while also being a bit out of the ordinary.  Whether you go with something seasonal such a barmbrack and tea set or something more personal such as jewelry, embrace your roots this spooky season and enjoy!

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