The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS | GOING OUT - Aoife McEl­wain

Ac­cord­ing to an in­fo­graphic on US candy habits around Hal­loween, kids would need to trick or treat for 180 miles, or about 60 hours, to burn off what they eat on this sugar-fo­cused hol­i­day. Judg­ing by the bags held for­ward by the kids at my Dublin door each year, a sim­i­larly ac­tive route might be needed for Ir­ish trick-or-treaters to work off their stash of good­ies. Are the bags get­ting big­ger or are the kids get­ting smaller?

It’s kind of funny to think how Hal­loween has been repack­aged and reim­ported to us from the US as a sweet-fo­cused oc­ca­sion, see­ing as we were the ones who re­port­edly in­vented many of the Hal­loween tra­di­tions that are around today.

Su­per­sti­tious sus­pi­cion

It’s only in the past two decades that Hal­loween in Ire­land be­came at all as­so­ci­ated with sweets and trick-or-treat­ing. I re­mem­ber a time, and you might too, when peo­ple in Ire­land viewed trick-or-treat­ing with su­per­sti­tious sus­pi­cion. Per­haps that tinge of gen­uine fear was a hang­over from a time when Samhain cel­e­bra­tions to mark the Celtic New Year in­cluded the idea that dead souls were walking among us, an idea which has lost a bit of its bite over the years as Hal­loween be­came mar­keted to chil­dren.

A piece in The At­lantic from 2010 talks about trick-or-treat­ing in the US in the 1940s but it wasn’t un­til the 1950s and be­yond that candy com­pa­nies re­ally cot­toned on to Hal­loween as the po­ten­tial for mar­ket­ing, just like Christ­mas and Easter.

Long be­fore that, the Ne­olithic pas­sage tomb at the Hill of Tara was aligned with the Samhain sun­rise in the au­tumn equinox. Some­where along the way, the tra­di­tions of Samhain, such as dress­ing up in cos­tumes and recit­ing songs in ex­change for food or good for­tune, be­came merged with the Chris­tian All Saints’ Day to cre­ate Hal­loween.

Per­haps the most widely in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised sym­bol of Hal­loween that Ire­land can claim is the jack-o-lantern. On dis­play in the Mu­seum of Coun­try Life in Castle­bar, Co Mayo, is a jack-o’-lantern made from a turnip, dat­ing from the 19th cen­tury. It’s gen­uinely more hor­ri­fy­ing than any carved pump­kin I’ve ever seen carved.

Turnips were the tra­di­tional choice of veg­etable for carv­ing Hal­loween lanterns. The ori­gins of the jack-o’-lantern is thought to be in the myth of Stingy Jack, who spent a good deal of life trick­ing the Devil out of steal­ing his soul. When he fi­nally died, Jack was nei­ther wel­come in heaven or hell so the Devil ban­ished him to wan­der the Earth for eter­nity, with only a carved-out turnip lit with coals for guid­ance. The story of Stingy Jack is thought to have been brought to the US by Ir­ish im­mi­grants, and the turnip was re­placed by the more lo­cal pump­kin.

Snap Ap­ple

There’s a long tra­di­tion of ap­ple bob­bing, also known as Snap Ap­ple, in Ire­land, too. Cork-born 19th-cen­tury artist Daniel Ma­clise cap­tured the scene of Oc­to­ber 31st with his paint­ing en­ti­tled Snap Ap­ple Night, in around 1840. The paint­ing cur­rently hangs in Craw­ford Art Gallery in Cork, and it de­picts a barn party in full swing, com­plete with a bar­rel full of wa­ter sur­rounded by folks bob­bing for ap­ples.

One of my favourite Hal­loween treats is barm­brack. It’s thought the name de­rives from the Old English word of beaorma, which means fer­mented or yeasty, and the Ir­ish word breac, which means speck­led. I like my barm­brack sweet, sticky and dark, dot­ted with cur­rants and drank with tea. These days, the ring sur­vives in the loaf as a lucky to­ken for the per­son who gets the slice its hid­den in. A list on cites other items tra­di­tion­ally hid­den in barm­brack. Along­side the more fa­mil­iar ring wrapped in grease­proof pa­per and hid­den in the loaf, you might find a coin for wealth, a small piece of cloth for poverty, a pea for plenty, a thim­ble for a spin­ster and a but­ton for a bach­e­lor.

If you’re look­ing for some food-based Hal­loween ac­tion this week­end, Air­field House in Dun­drum, Co Dublin, are hold­ing a Young Chef Hal­loween Har­vest Feast this week­end, along­side their Bat Talk and Samhain sto­ry­telling ac­tiv­i­ties.

Art of pump­kin

In Ca­van, the Vir­ginia Pump­kin Fes­ti­val re­turns this week­end to this beau­ti­ful part of the coun­try, cel­e­brat­ing the art of pump­kin carv­ing and giv­ing fam­i­lies a day out at the same time.

Botanic en­thu­si­asts might like Bram Stoker Fes­ti­val’s show, Night­mare Plants, tak­ing place on Oc­to­ber 28th and 29th at The Na­tional Botanic Gar­dens of Ire­land in Dublin.

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