HALLOWEEN – YOU CAN BLAME THE IRISH FOR IT (October 26/01)

In the book In Search of Ireland the author, H. V. Morton, quotes a man from Killarney as saying, “We Irish, we’re an aggressive, superstitious lot an’ we’re blamed for many things.”

Anyone familiar with the Irish riots in the early days of railway building in the province might agree that some Irishmen are indeed aggressive. And superstitious as well, given the large body of Irish folklore about fairies and leprechauns.

You might even agree that in the past two or three hundred years the Irish can be “blamed for many things.” Lately, I read, for example, that without stretching facts much, one can blame the Irish for the popularity of Halloween in some parts of the world. A recent article in a religious publication, an article tracing the pagan roots of Halloween, said in effect that the Irish were responsible for the rapidly growing popularity of the event in Europe.

“Following the potato famine in the 19th century,” the article reads, “Irish immigrants took Halloween and its customs to the United States. From there it has returned to Europe in the past few years.”

The article went on to say that the growing popularity of Halloween in countries such as France is “not viewed favorably by all.” In France, Halloween is being attacked as a custom with pagan roots that presents a danger to established religions. An editorial in the newspaper Le Monde said that “Halloween, which coincides with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 1 and 2) and could even replace them, is making shopkeepers happy and panicking churchmen.”

What prompted the anti-Halloween article in the church publication is the recent upsurge in popularity of this event in Europe. “Formerly viewed as an American holiday, the article said, “Halloween has spread around the world, becoming popular with both children and adults.”

France has wholeheartedly embraced Halloween, said the article, and nearly one-third of French households celebrated the event last year. In Italy, Halloween is described in the article as “a current fad… a boom that is sweeping the country. From Germany, the article quotes a leading newspaper which states that more German citizens than ever before do not want to miss out on the gruesome fun of Halloween. Halloween has established a foothold in Japan as well where “pumpkin parades with thousands of participants have been held in Tokyo.”

And yes, the Irish apparently started it all.

Halloween’s roots go back before Christianity, to the era when ancient Celts inhabited Ireland and Britain. The Celts divided the year into two seasons, the dark winter months and the light summer months. On the full moon nearest November 1 the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain, meaning summer’s end. During this festival, the Celts believed that the veil between the human and supernatural world parted and both good and evil spirits roamed the world.

It is said that it was Irish monks who, weary of fighting pagan customs, combined celebrations such as the festival of Samhain into church festivities. This may explain why Halloween remained with the common people in Ireland as a harmless custom. And why when the great wave of Irish immigrants arrived here, Halloween came to Canada and the United States.

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