How the Irish Invented Halloween

Pagan holidays were closely woven with the natural world and its cycles, and even though today we lead lives pretty far removed from the seasons, sun, or harvest, we can still see remnants of these festivals in our calendar today. One of the best examples? Halloween!

To us, Halloween means costumes, partying, candy, and debauchery. And you know what? Even though the background is different, it meant pretty much the same things to the Ancient Irish.

Halloween started as the Samhain Festival, which celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. It was seen as a sort of crossing from summer into the blackness of winter, which is likely why it was associated with death and the liminal space between this world and the next. When you hear people say that the dead can roam free on the night of Halloween, you’re echoing the beliefs of generations of Celtic pagans. They believed that on this night the Aos Sí—the spirits or fairies—could roam the earth, and families would leave gifts of food and drink outside their homes to appease the magic creatures and the souls of the dead (much like trick-or-treating!). The costumes we wear today are recreations of the costumes the pagans would wear to imitate or disguise themselves from the Aos Sí.

Ad perhaps most relevantly to our present celebrations, Samhain was also one of the biggest drinking holidays. There are four major Gaelic festivals in Ireland, yet every story mentioned in their mythology that features drunken behavior takes place at Samhain, like the Irish epics like The Drunkeness of the Ulsternmen or the Adventure of Nera. Kings and tribal leaders would host great feasts on Samhain to celebrate the harvest and ale was consumed en masse. Archeologists have discovered huge brewing cauldrons for occasions like Samhain, but they have found no storage vessels, leading historians to believe that drinking was only a seasonal event. They could brew their ale or mead after the harvest, but they had no way of keeping it through the rest of the year, resulting in an all-or-nothing bacchanal every Samhain.

This is exactly the spirit we aim to channel at Wilde Rover this Samhain season: drink like there’s no tomorrow, and perhaps like it’s your only night on earth. We’ll be running our Samhain from November 1st through November 21st, giving you plenty of opportunities to come by the pub for our food and drink specials and special events like live music, Irish dancing, or Celtic art and history displays. Don’t miss our special Irish winter menu items!cemetery-899426_1280

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