Halloween – where it came from ( and a few jokes)

Let’s start with a joke – my kid wanted to dress up as a ghost – i told him not to waste money on a custume and just wear a white sheet. Without missing a beat he said – ” dad, your brilliant “

ok, so the history of halloween –

Samhain

Halloween is rooted in the ancient Gaelic festival known as Samhain. It was one of four Gaelic festivals which punctuated the year at the cross quarter points between the solstices and the equinoxes. These four festivals are

  1. Imbolc ( between the winter solstice and the Spring equinox),
  2. Bealtaine ( between the spring equinox and Summer solstice)
  3. Lunasa ( between the summer solstice and autumn equinox)
  4. Samhain ( between the spring equinox and winter solstice)

Samhain is definitely the one which is best survived in to modern times and serves as the origin for halloween. To really get a feel for halloween we need to imagine being in Ireland hundreds of years ago entering the dark side of the year. Ireland , despite its temperate climate , is at a fairly extreme latitude and experiences only seven hours of daylight on the winter solstice. It is obvious to point out the lack of electricity and modern entertainments but worth contemplating the effect this dearth of light and modern conveniences would have on peoples minds.

My feeling is that people would have become more at one with the winter season. The mind would harmonise with the cold, dark sorrounds and at the same time the dependence on and interdependance with the community would have been keenly felt and celebrated. The sense of the other world becoming close and the ancestors drawing in would dominate as the seasons turned.

It seems to me that the magical and mystical element to Halloween was almost certainly stimulated by the easy availability of the psilocybin containing mushroom psilocybe semilanceata coloquilly known as the liberty cap in farmers fields around this time of year. While most people in Ireland today are relatively unaware of its easy availability and its use would still be frowned upon and illegal, it seems obvious to me that a rural peasantry, frequently pushed to the verge of starvation would have had knowledge of every type of mushroom and its effects and this would surely have included the liberty cap, which grows relatively abundently in the open fields where animals graze.

Halloween today

While many cultures have a similar festival on the precipice of winter, for example, the Mexican day of the dead, most of the traditions we associate with halloween are Irish customs which travelled with Irish emigrants to America, mostly in the late 19th century in the years following the great famine.

These include “trick or treating”, bobbing for apples and indeed carving pumpkins, although in Ireland it was turnips that were carved in to candle holders. The ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain would also have included communal bonfires and the wearing of costumes. Of course there was also the church involvement as they created ” all saints day” and ” all souls day” on November 1 and 2 respectively, in an effort to appropriate and influence the festivities.

So as you celebrate Halloween this year, remember that it is an ancient marking point towards the winter, a time of potential hardship and community interdependance but also marking a time of community abundance at harvest time. It is a time also perhaps to be humble about the otherworld and stay open to life’s mysteries and wonder. May you have an abundant and joyous celebration !

Reasons to visit Ireland in 2024

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As a travel director with Trafalgar tours (see Trafalgar Homepage ), it is my pleasure to introduce Ireland to visitors from all over the world. Frequently, these guests have a shared heritage and culture whose ancestors left here over the preceding generations. But more recently, as often as not, this isn’t the case. Modern Ireland is a confident world leader in the realm of music, culture, and technology and draws guests from all over the world who are intrigued by our rich culture and thriving cities. Here, I share some of the reasons to visit Ireland, whether you have Irish heritage or not.

1. Cool, temperate Climate

Often guests come with an expectation that their visit to Ireland is going to be, from a meteorological point of view, a rain-soaked and dreary experience with half the crack (fun) involving avoiding the rain in cosy pubs and caf├ęs. While this really wouldn’t be the worst description of what can happen on a bad day, the truth is that the Irish climate has much to recommend it.

In high summer, many people traveling from warm parts of America are usually delighted with the cool, temperate climate which they find invigorating and revitalizing. Another truth is that it doesn’t rain that much! It is actually very rare for it to rain all day. What is more common is a showery day punctuated by long dry spells and if you are lucky, a bit of sunshine. We also get beautiful long, sunny evenings here in high summer. The downside of the climate here is not so much the rain but the grey skies, which can dominate at certain times of the year. In the winter, when daylight is short, this can be dreary for sure, so come in the summer or autumn when the days are longer and there is a better chance of sunshine. I usually recommend May to September as the optimum time to visit. Remember that unlike continental Europe, it is rarely too hot here for comfort.

Another aspect of the weather that is undeniable is its unpredictability and variability. But, in truth, this adds a bit of spice and variety to our days and our conversations. We are always happy to talk about the weather and have our unique way of talking about it – whether it is “soft days (cloudy, mild)”, “pelting rain” or “baltic (cold)”, we like to bring ourselves to terms with the weather with a sort of endearing and poetic phrasing that reflects and creates a sort of frustrating but genuine love for the capricious but relatively steadfast mood of the elements around us.

As regards the weather and its impact on outdoor activities such as jogging, cycling, hiking, surfing etc. suffice it to say that you can usually engage in these activities most days. You certainly are not guaranteed glorious sunshine at any time of year but it is rare that you will be rained out of it either. With no real snow and ice, few thunderstorms and generally mild, moderate temperatures year round there is no good excuse not to get out and about. Even on a bad day you can usually time it to get our for a cycle or a run when it is dry. The one exception to this would be hiking when it can be dangerous to go hiking in the mountains in cold or rainy weather or on the shorter, winter days when it gets dark early.

2) Jovial Culture

The joviality of Irish culture is a defining feature of the nation. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Irish are among the most convivial and friendly people on the planet. We have an open attitude towards visitors and are happy to welcome people who come here to holiday, to study, or to work. Many visitors are indeed surprised at the level of immigration here, and while this is a controversial topic throughout the world at the moment, I will simply make the observation that the Irish have been very welcoming to people from all over the world and add the hope that this friendly, open, tolerant, and welcoming spirit will continue to be shared by the new arrivals.

What’s the crack ?

Crack (sometimes spelled craic) is a word that is used throughout Ireland to denote fun and merriment. I know it has other meanings elsewhere! We use it all the time. “What’s the crack?” is a common greeting in the West of Ireland. “Good crack” means a good atmosphere, etc. The word itself is actually of English origin but more frequently used in Ireland these days. Most Irish people regard it as an Irish word and insist on spelling it “craic,” but its origins in middle English were “crak,” meaning loud conversation or boastful talk. However, we are claiming it now!

Irish culture at its best aims to celebrate each day and enjoy every interaction as a rewarding and enriching experience. But remember that we are also a modern culture with the attendant stresses, strains, and distractions. We are probably not generally as time-rich as we once were, and in Dublin, in particular, you may feel despondent not to encounter the timeless aura of a simpler time. So be it. You can still find people who aim to enjoy every day and savour personal interactions in a way you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world.

3. Exceptional Music

Music has always been at the heart of Ireland’s culture and sense of pride and identity. Even the English chronicler Giraldus, writing in the 12th century amidst many disdainful observations of the Irish people, commented on the skillfulness of the Irish musicians and the rich musical culture he encountered here on his travels: “Ireland, I affirm, abounds more in the musical art than any other culture in the world.”

This love of music continues to the present. While traditional Irish music continues to go from strength to strength since the advent of shows such as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance in the 1990’s, the rich and thriving traditional music scene is augmented with other types of music also. While Dublin, Galway and Cork boast a strong rock/pop tradition the country towns boast a strong “country and Irish” scene which is a mix of American country and Irish folk. Get chatting to any Irish person and I am nearly certain that they will be passionate about some band or musical genre. Music goes deep here !

4. The “scenery” (aka nature)

Nature is beautiful everywhere, Of course, we like to consider ourselves the central charachter in the epic tale we consider to be our lives while nature takes a back seat. It’s nice if it’s pretty but it often feels like just background. In Ireland , for whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like that. If seems that the countryside interposes itself onto your mind with surprising strength. The beautifully managed farmers’ fields amidst the desolate western coastline in the burren for example brings a calm sense of wonder. The Cliffs of Moher offer a wild open window on the seething Atlantic that can humble the sense of self and speaks to me of another world – across, on or under the ocean, not to mention the world of the seagulls whose world this is.

There is also tremendous variety. Lakes, rivers, and waterfalls are tucked away in every corner of the island. The serene beauty of Killarney’s lakes, the tranquility of the River Shannon, and the enchanting Powerscourt Waterfall are just a few examples of the country’s natural treasures. Meanwhile the otherworldly landscapes of the Burren and the Giant’s Causeway spark the imagination, leaving visitors feeling as if they’ve stepped into a land of myth and legend.

Conclusion

Visiting Ireland is a sensory experience like no other. Its vivid greenery, striking coastlines, and the allure of its bustling cities and lively towns make it a destination that caters to all tastes. Whether you’re captivated by the scenic beauty, the thriving jovial culture, the resonant melodies of Irish music, or the rich tapestry of contemporary Irish life, Ireland’s unique appeal is a testament to its enduring and ever-evolving charm. In a world that constantly changes, Ireland remains a timeless treasure waiting to be explored.

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