Many Hallowe’en traditions come from the Irish celebration of Samhain. It was a pagan celebration in Ireland (and probably in other near-by lands, too).
To celebrate, we’ve made a new Hallowe’en Irish language lesson available. It’s free below. It’s a sample of content from Bitesize Cúrsaí: our library of online Irish language lessons for members. Sign up for free Taster membership to try some lessons.
Warning, it’s not for the faint of heart!
The Irish language phrase for Halloween is Oíche Shamhna. It literally means the Eve of Samhain.
Ireland’s Celtic festivals
Samhain marks one of the two main points in the Celtic year – November 1st. The other one is Lá Bealtaine on May 1st. These two days break up the year into two seasons: the light and the dark.
The light part starts in early summer on Lá Bealtaine, and the dark part starts in early winter on Samhain, which literally means “the end of summer“.
What’s so special about Halloween?
In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids.
Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the cattle and the sheep were brought from the pastures back to the stables, when the harvest was stored and the fattest animals slaughtered to feed the people through the winter months.
It was believed that at Samhain the gods drew nearer to the Earth, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered in thanksgiving for the harvest. Fires were lit and people threw in objects symbolizing their wishes and prayers.
Samhain was changed to Hallowmas — a feast to honor the dead — with the rise of Christianity.
Old Halloween customs in Ireland
The custom of trick-or-treating may have originated from an old Irish custom of going door-to-door to collect bread, cheese, nuts and apples in preparation for the feasting at Samhain.
Ghosts and spirits
Samhain is a time of fairies, ghosts, demons, and witches. In Celtic mythology winter was the season of ghosts, and Samhain is the night when they are released from the underworld. Many people lit bonfires to keep the evil spirits at bay.
Light the bonfire
Light a bonfire, they keep the evil spirits away!
Fruits of the season
Apples played a big role in divinations on Samhain. Apple peeling was a divination to see how long your life would be – the longer the unbroken apple peel, the longer your life was destined to be.
Samhain was also known as Nutcrack Night, because it was a popular custom at Samhain to throw nuts on the fire.
If a nut burned brightly it meant that the thrower would be alive in twelve months time. If it flared up brightly it meant marriage within twelve months.
To see if a relationship will last, you have to place two hazelnuts side by side and burn them over a fire. If they stay together as they burn, the couple will last. If the nuts burst apart the relationship will break up.
Conversation practice for Halloween
This conversation builds on previous conversation phrases in this program.
Micheál and Pádraig have been friends when they were children. They met for lunch after not seeing eachother for a couple of years. As they are saying goodbye they are planning a night out for Halloween.
Bonus Hallowe’en recording
Hope you don’t scare too easily 😉
If you liked this, see more Halloween Samhain resources for the Irish language.
This has been content from a Bitesize Cúrsaí lesson. Bitesize Cúrsaí is our online library of Irish language lessons. Learn at your own pace. Listen and repeat thousands of audio recordings, to get your pronunciation right over time. Sign up for free Taster membership to try it out.