In a word . . .
. . . Halloween
Let’s pretend. It’s The Life of Brian and the debate surrounds “what have the Irish ever done for us?”
Stan: “Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, Heaney, Joyce?”
Reg: “Okay, okay, okay – but apart from those?
Stan: “Drink, feck, craic, Jedward?”
Reg: “Alright, alright . . .but . . .”
Mathias: “Brian . . . !”
Reg: “Oh, for pity’s sake. If Brian was Irish his surname would be Ceon not Cohen.”
Mathias: “I meant the name, Brian.”
Reg: “Apart from Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, Heaney, Joyce, drink, feck, craic, Jedward and Brian, what have the Irish ever done for us?”
Stan: “Halloween . . . ?”
Reg: “You cannot be serious?”
Stan: “You been arguing with the tennis umpire again?”
But it’s true. Halloween is a contraction of All-Hallow Evening, the eve of All-Saints Day. It takes place on October 31st and was an old festival of celebration where our ancestors were concerned. It was the last night of the year in the old Celtic calendar, the Old Year’s Night when witches do play.
To hallow, if you remember from your Our Father, is to make holy, hence “hallowed be thy name”. It is derived from the Middle English hal (o) wen, before that the Old English halgain (from German heiligen) and Old Norse helga, derived from halig, meaning holy.
In the old Gaelic/Celtic tradition it marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year “when blood is nipped and ways be foul . . .” Then it was known as the great festival of Samhain, hence the Irish for November Mí na Samhna, the first day of which was also deemed the first day of winter.
It was a time when bonfires were lit and spirits or fairies, witches too, could more easily come into our world. The souls of the dead were thought to revisit their old haunts too, so to speak. Part of the festival involved people going door to door in costume or disguise, often reciting verses in exchange for food.
It is called “trick or treating” since the Americans got hold of Halloween in the 19th century. And we must thank the Americans for making Halloween what is today.
In its infinite wisdom the church decided in the ninth century that All Saints (Hallows) Day would be on November 1st and All Souls Day would be November 2nd. Over time they merged to help create our modern Halloween.