How the Irish abroad celebrate Halloween, from Auckland to Seattle
Little is known about its origins, but trick or treating is becoming popular
Evan Keating with his two boys Ben and Luke in Auckland, New Zealand.
Generation Emigration asked readers abroad to tell us about Halloween where they live. Is it celebrated? Are its origins understood? Do Irish people dress up anyway, even if it’s not a thing in their adopted home?
Evan Keating, Auckland: ‘It’s good to have an Irish tradition we can pass to the kids’
I’m originally from Laois, moved to the UK in 2003 and from there to Auckland, New Zealand in 2008.
I was always a big fan of Halloween when I was a kid back in Co Laois; I loved the bags of monkey nuts, bobbing for apples, barmbrack, bonfires, fireworks and the spookiness of it all. As with most European festivals, the time of year in the southern hemisphere doesn’t align with its original meaning so we’re heading into summer and longer days instead of dark nights. Pumpkins are not in season and I haven’t the patience to hack at a turnip like when I was young.
Our twin boys are turning four so this will be their first year going trick or treating. Last year we dressed them up for a party at daycare and they got excited at other kids coming to the door, but didn’t quite get what it was all about. This year, they know that we’ll be going getting “lollies” from the neighbours and are all set for that.
We live in a fairly typical West Auckland street so there’s lots of houses and units down long driveways, but we’ll probably stick to the neighbours we know with kids.
Despite the history of Irish immigration here, it’s surprising how little is known about the festival. The downside of this time of year can be a general moaning about how “American” it is. Some churches set up “light parties” as an alternative but I think Halloween is family friendly as it is. Guy Fawkes day is much more popular, which I guess reflects the colonial history.
Otherwise, it’s an excuse for people to have dress up parties, but it seems kids are getting more into the spirit of it the past few years. Neither my Kiwi wife nor I are religious and I don’t play GAA, so it’s good to have an Irish tradition we can pass to the kids.
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Fionnuala Zinnecker, Germany: ‘People don’t know the date of Halloween or its origins and meaning’
The fields around the area we live in are mostly cleared of pumpkins now. The season is coming to an end. Everywhere you turn there are decorative gourds and carved pumpkins on display and pumpkin dishes on menus.
Halloween itself is not popular at all. Often mispronounced as “helloween”, it is assumed to be a made-up American holiday. People tend not to know the date of Halloween or its origins and meaning.
Our Irish traditions of colcannon with hidden coins, toffee apples, bobbing for apples, eating brack, monkey nuts and mandarins are unknown here. I like to celebrate these traditions with my children. We usually hold a little Halloween party for their friends, getting dressed up in scary costumes and lighting sparklers out in the garden in the dark. Trick or treating is not the done thing where we live, but it is becoming popular in larger towns.
Marian Reid, Melbourne: ‘In Australia I had to make an extra effort to keep the tradition alive’
The first Halloween I had here in Australia in 2012 was a strange experience. There was no excitement. No run up to the holiday. No interest. Every year at home Halloween came to me. In Australia I had to make an extra effort to keep the tradition alive.
The following year I organised a group of Irish friends to dress up in costume and to out on the town. I got ready in the office after work drawing giggles from my work colleagues. When I said “Happy Halloween” with enthusiasm, I received a reply “oh yeah, is that today?” and “isn’t that American?”
I also received the same questions from my Australian friends. They were surprised to hear the tradition stemmed from Celtic pagan traditions and a way of honouring the dead and no, dressing up isn’t just for kids. They also had trouble understanding why Irish mothers would dress their children in black bin bags and felt this constituted a sufficient Halloween costume. This was a hard one to explain.
So this year I persuaded a few of my friends to get into the spirit and dress up with me celebrate with me. Halloween reminds me home, and it’s a part of my culture I don’t ever want to let go.
Jill McMonagle Martin, Seattle: ‘I miss the bonfire and fireworks’
I love Halloween. I’ve always celebrated it, be it in Dublin as a kid or in Seattle with my three kids.
The dressing up, the gathering of friends together, the sweets, the fun and games are all still the same for us, regardless of country.
We’ve introduced a few new games with our kids and friends in recent years. The fun of Halloween in our house is now spread over a week, catering to both adults and children. We do a Pumpkin Carve-Off a few days before Halloween, with a big pot of chilli and hot cider. The kids love it, and the adults enjoy some friendly competition. There is the customary adult costume party, and the kids have a costume parade at school. On Halloween night, the kids run from house to house enjoying “Trick or Treat!”
The only things I miss from Halloween in Ireland are the bonfire and fireworks with the gang of kids standing around to watch the scarecrow go up in flames. Pure innocent fun.