Inventing and reinventing Halloween in Ireland

Bet you thought Ireland’s most successful export was the Irish pub. Or maybe even St Patrick’s Day parades

Halloween festival in Derry/Londonderry
Halloween festival in Derry/Londonderry

Well, you’d be wrong.

See, that massive celebration on 31 October widely know as Halloween? We invented it.

The Halloween fireworks display
The Halloween fireworks display

Derry~Londonderry loves Halloween! Did you know Halloween originates from the 2,000 year-old Celtic festival of Samhain. The word “Samhain” comes from the Old Irish language meaning “end of summer”. The Pagan Irish worshipped the natural cycle of life with emphasis on the changing of the seasons. They believed that on Samhain, the veil between this world and the next was at its weakest and the spirits of dead ancestors could pass through.

The Celts wore costumes (probably animal heads and skins) to disguise themselves as evil spirits to avoid a spectral kidnapping by the genuine harmful spirits who were out prowling. Huge bonfires were lit to help guide the friendly spirits.

The morphing of Samhain into Halloween came about in the 7th century, when Christianity declared All Saints’ Day or All-hallows for 1 November. This made the night before it All-hallows Eve, which changed over the years to Halloween.

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Derry-Londonderry dresses up

It is a natural progression to invent something and then perfect it, which is where Derry-Londonderry’s Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival comes in.

The city resembles a Halloween movie set for the four-day festival. It’s like the directors of the Witches of Eastwick took a research trip to Derry-Londonderry before they set their elaborate scenes. Perfectly carved pumpkins flicker grotesque grins, candy appears by the bucketful, and every person in town is in costume.

As Mayor Kevin Campbell puts it: “No one does it like Derry-Londonderry. Everyone is talking about Halloween and getting their costumes organised weeks in advance.”

All things spooky

The carnival of all things spooky attracts 25,000 people. In 2010, dance groups performed Thriller in Guildhall Square, while acrobats jumped about in a Mexican Day of the Dead-inspired show. In 2012, there was a Shape Shifters Catwalk event and Dragon Safari.

Between the haunted houses, bobbing for apples, ghostbuster tours and horror-storytelling, the city manages to squeeze in a parade, puppet theatre, outdoor markets and scary movies. The grand finale is fireworks display, which lights up the sky.

Of course, one of the most enjoyable parts of the festival is the dressing up. If you dare venture past those famous city walls on 31 October without so much as a novelty hat, you’ll be underdressed.

You’ll be thirsty, too, as barmen refuse to serve anyone who haven’t made some kind of effort.

Sure, what is Halloween really about but glitter, glue and your inner child.

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