Bet you thought Ireland’s most successful export was the Irish pub. Or maybe even St Patrick’s Day parades
Well, you’d be wrong.
See, that massive celebration on 31 October widely know as Halloween? We invented it.
Derry~Londonderry loves Halloween! Did you know Halloween originates from the 2,000 year-old Celtic festival of Samhain? Well, it does.
The word “Samhain” derives from the Old Irish language meaning “end of summer” and those days pre-St Patrick when the Irish, as pagans, worshiped the natural cycle of life with emphasis on the changing of the seasons. These early locals 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.
All sounds likely, but, we hear you say, that doesn't explain the tradition of 'dressing up'.
The Celts, you see, 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. At the same time, huge bonfires were lit to help guide those harmless, friendly spirits who had 'passed over'.
From Samhain to Halloween
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.
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, as if the producer of the Witches of Eastwick took a research trip to Derry-Londonderry. 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 House of Horror, Awakening of the Walls, Monster Origami and Diwali Festival of Light, 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.