Halloween marks the halfway point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. It is a celebration to mark the end of the harvest and the beginning of the winter season.
Historically, the Irish were really into celebrating solar events and they built all sorts of monuments dedicated to the sun. For example, the Mound of Hostages is an 8000-year-old passage tomb with a central passage that was designed to illuminate for the sunrise on Halloween (and it’s springtime equivalent, February 1, which was also an important Gaelic Holiday).
Traditional Irish Hallowe’en Celebrations
Here’s what I learned about the Irish roots of Hallowe’en from my friends in Ireland. I haven’t double-checked any of these facts on the internet, so this is by word of mouth alone.
All of my Irish friends grew up trick-or-treating as children. Well everyone that is, except for my friend Sinead, who grew up in Belfast in the 1970s. As she put it, they had more than enough fireworks without Halloween. Everyone, including Sinead, would dress up in homemade costumes, play various party games (like bobbing for apples) and carve Jack O’Lanterns.
However, none of my Irish friends had ever carved a pumpkin until that tradition was imported from America.
While that might seem like a pretty big contradiction, it’s easily explained. Jack O’Lanterns weren’t traditionally carved from a pumpkin.
Jack O’Lantern was a headless ghost, who wandered around in the night with a really large turnip for a head. And back in the 1970s and 80s, everyone carved turnips, which apparently was very hard to do and many spoons would be ruined by the effort.
History aside, Halloween is still a really big deal in Ireland. It is a bank holiday for all workers. All of the schools, from preschools right up to the Universities, are closed for the whole week, which means that fireworks and eggings abound. And if you were to go to the local farmers’ market on the last weekend of October and try to buy kale, then you would likely find that it was sold out because colcannon is traditional All Hallows E’en fare.
Colcannon is a really easy and delicious dish. It’s also a great way to convince kids to eat their greens! While it can be made with other greens, like cabbage, leeks or spinach, this is the more popular recipe.
- 2 lb of floury potatoes (russets)
- 1/4 cup of butter
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1 bunch of kale
- 6 spring onions
- 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
- 1/4 tsp pepper, to taste
- Wash and peel the potatoes. Then boil the potatoes for 15-20 minutes. When they are fork-tender, drain the water.
- While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the vegetables. Remove the kale from the stems and finely dice the kale leaves. Finely chop the spring onions.
- Mash the potatoes with the butter and milk. Add the salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the kale and spring onions while the potatoes are still hot and put the lid on so that the greens can cook. Let the potatoes rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
- Enjoy colcannon as part of your Hallowe’en Sunday roast.