by Brian October 27, 2022
A Jack O'Lantern in a graveyard

Hi folks! As Halloween is approaching, this week’s blog post is about all things spooky! Why do we celebrate Halloween here in Ireland? Where does the name Halloween come from? Why do children ‘trick or treat’? This post will answer all these questions and more!

The Origins of Halloween

To explore the roots of Halloween, we have to go back about 2000 years ago. Before Christianity came to Ireland, the Irish people followed Celtic traditions.

The Celts saw the world a bit differently from the way we see it today. They considered that the day began in darkness and became brighter as it progressed. They saw the year in the same way – with a darker half (winter) and a brighter half (summer). The Celtic year began in dark Winter and finished at the end of Autumn. They called this time when autumn ends and winter begins Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’).

At Samhain, the Celts believed that the division between the physical world and the spirit world became very thin. This meant that spirits and other supernatural creatures could pass into the physical world.

Dogs dressed up as ghosts

Why do we dress up at Halloween?

Some of these spirits were deceased ancestors paying a visit to their families. They were welcomed and offered food. Other spirits had bad intentions so people dressed up as evil spirits to avoid harm. This is why it has become a tradition to wear a costume at Halloween – to protect yourself from the real evil spirits!

Why do children say ‘trick or treat’?

If they received a gift, it was believed the ghosts would do no harm. So the Celts made offerings of food in order to appease the ghosts. However, if they had no gifts for the ghosts then the house would be cursed and have bad luck for the following year. So nowadays we give treats (sweets, apples etc.) to children (ghosts) so they don’t play a trick (curse the house).

man at bonfire

Why do we light ‘bonfires’?

Bonfires are big fires that are lit in public spaces. They are very common in Ireland at Halloween. There are several theories about the origins of the bonfire. One theory says that all household fires had to be extinguished and then relit from the communal bonfire. This symbolised the new year and the victory of light over dark. Other theories say the bonfires helped the spirits find their way back to the underworld or warded off the evil spirits. Yet another theory says bonfires were lit in honour of the Sun God. Perhaps all of these theories are true!

3 jack-o-lanterns

What is a ‘Jack-O-Lantern’?

The ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ has become the most prominent symbol of Halloween. It’s a pumpkin carved out to look like an evil face. People often place candles in them to ward of the evil spirits. The tradition was originally done in Ireland with turnips. Although the tradition died out in Ireland, it was taken up in America using pumpkins and now has become popular in Ireland again, but also using pumpkins!

Where does the name Halloween come from?

The word Halloween is an abbreviation of ‘All Hallows Eve’ a Scottish term for the last day of October which dates back to 1745.

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Bonfire: A big fire that is lit in a communal place

Trick or treat: What children say at Halloween when they knock on doors

Celts: A collection of tribes (people) with origins in central Europe about 3000 years ago

Samhain: The Irish language word for autumn

Supernatural: Adjective to describe things that cannot be explained by science

Deceased: Dead

Ancestor: A person from an earlier generation of your family who lived a long time ago

Harm: Damage or injury

To appease: To bring to a state of peace

Cursed: Having bad luck caused by a magic spell

Relit: Past tense of relight meaning to light a fire that has gone out again

Victory: Winning

Turnip: A root vegetable that grows in Ireland

Phrasal Verbs

To ward off: To someone or something unpleasant from harming you / Example: People wire masks to ward off the evil spirits

To die out: To become less common and finally stop existing

Halloween Idioms

Test Yourself

Halloween Quiz

1 / 16

Halloween is about ______ years old.

2 / 16

Which tribes were the first to celebrate Halloween?

3 / 16

What was the original reason for dressing up at Halloween?

4 / 16

At Halloween children say__________.

5 / 16

The first Jack O'Lanterns were made from  ________.

6 / 16

The Irish language word for autumn is ________.

7 / 16

People wore scary costumes to ________ evil spirits.

8 / 16

A ghost is a __________ being.

9 / 16

Jack O'Lanterns are normally made from a _________.

10 / 16

What are bonfires?

11 / 16

What was the original purpose of bonfires?

12 / 16

The president has a ________ in his closet.

13 / 16

If you do that you'll be digging your own _______.

14 / 16

The man was killed in ______ blood.

15 / 16

Which idiom means 'under no circumstances'?

16 / 16

The word 'Halloween' is an abbreviation of ___________.

Your score is

Thank you for reading our post. You’ll find loads of English grammar tips elsewhere on our site and if you’d like information on our online English courses live from Dublin, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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