Most of us today think of Halloween as an American custom, but did you know it’s actually the popular Scottish name for October 31st, the eve of the Christian feast, All Hallowes or All Saints Day? Observances connected with this festival are thought to have originated with the Druids who believed that on that evening Samhain, the lord of the dead called forth ghosts and evil spirits, and that witches were likely to walk abroad.
Great bonfires were lit to ward off these spirits, a tradition which has survived in Scotland and Wales until modern times.
Ireland, Scotland, parts of Northern England and the United States still observe Halloween. In the U.S. it is often the descendants of people from Ireland and Scotland who carry on the tradition – and we can thank the Americans for the introduction of pumpkins.
In Australia, Halloween is mostly celebrated by kids who run amok at dusk, dressed up as witches and ghouls.
Different countries have their own specialties. There are a number of foods associated with Halloween, many of which are traditional Irish dishes such as colcannon made from cooked chopped kale or cabbage and hot mashed potatoes which are beaten together with a little hot milk, chopped boiled leek or onions. This mixture is then fried until crisp and brown in sizzling butter and bacon fat. When served at Halloween, a ring is put in the colcannon and whoever finds the ring will marry within the year.
In Scotland, the bonnach samthian (an oatcake cut as round as a dinner plate and baked on a hot griddle) is baked and also an elaborate fruit cake iced in the Halloween colours of orange and black.
Today, baked goods such as cupcakes and cookies have become a popular way of celebrating Halloween because they lend themselves to quirky decoration.
Apples and nuts also play a part in Halloween – see my story on apple bobbing and various games to play. Nut cracking was also popular. After the Romans had conquered Britain, they added features of the Roman harvest festival of Pomona, Goddess of Fruit Trees, to Halloween celebrations.