Explore traditions related to Samhain, Halloween and Christmas in Ireland.
The festival of Samhain, the first day of winter, was marked on the 1st November, the Feast of All Saints. The eve of this day, Oíche Shamhna (Halloween), is still celebrated in many parts of Ireland with feasting and games.
Traditionally a harvest of fruit and nuts was gathered for the festive fare and also featured in family activities on the night. Games foretelling marriages also provided entertainment.
People believed that on this night the spirits of the dead might return to the family home. Evil spirits were also thought to be active so people avoided travelling alone at night. They protected their homes from bad luck with holy water and in some areas made Halloween crosses.
The winter festival of Christmas, celebrated on 25th December, is centred on the family and a special meal. In some localities straw-clad drama groups known as Mummers enacted a traditional play in rhyme.
The Wren Boys marked St Stephen’s feast day (26th December) in some communities. These men and boys in fancy dress went entertaining from house to house ‘Hunting the Wren’ popularly regarded as the betrayer of the Saint.