Sure wasn’t it the ancient tradition of Ireland that gave the world Halloween in the first place. The Halloween custom we have come to enjoy has come a long way from its origins in Celtic Ireland. It is considered one of the oldest holidays.
Once a serious Pagan holiday, we have transformed it into a fun, party holiday. The holiday originates from a 2,000 year old Celtic festival call Samhain.
Samhain, pronounced sow-wen, is a Celtic word meaning "summer's end." It is also the Irish Gaelic word for the month of November. Samhain is the last harvest festival as well as the end of the year on the Celtic calendar. Ancient Celts believed that on October 31st, the dead roamed the earth with the living. The Celts lit bonfires in honor of the dead, they would throw in bones of slaughtered livestock, believing this might keep the spirits a distance from the living.
On the Halloween holiday all manner of beings are playing about and mixing with the living; ghosts, fairies, and evil spirits. Celtic Druids would dress up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits in case they would encounter other spirits during the night. By disguise they placated the spirits and hoped that they would be able to avoid being carried away at the end of the night. This is why today witches, goblins and ghosts are the most popular choices for costumes.
Traditional activities for Halloween include eating Colcannon, making Bram Brack Cake, recounting scary stories, playing games such as snap apple, blind Date game with cabbages, more match making games with apples, anti-fairy measures, not forgetting old customs on farms, the sprinking of holy water or spit and an ivy leaf belief.
The Irish began carving Jack 0’ Lanterns to remember the souls in purgatory. Irish immigrants carried versions of these traditions to the Mid-Atlantic region of North America in the nineteenth century. The Lanterns originated through an old Irish folk tale about Stingy Jack, a blacksmith, who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to Heaven. As a punishment the Devil doomed Jack to wander eternity with only a burning ember from the everlasting fires of Hell inside a turnip to light his way. When the Irish emigrated in millions to America, there was not a great supply of turnips so pumpkins were used instead. Villagers believed that a light in the window would keep Jack, the wanderer away.
One food tradition is the Bram Brack Cake also known as Soul Cakes. During the Medieval era of Ireland, children would go from house to house singing songs and asking for Soul Cakes. For each cake gathered, they would then say a prayer for a deceased loved one from the family who gave the cake. These prayers helped lost souls or those in purgatory into Heaven. Many historians believe this may have been the beginning of our modern day trick'or'treaters.
BRAM BRACK CAKE
The Halloween Bram Brack Cake traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. Initially in the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, “to beat one’s wife with”, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year.
We had such many happy memories eating this cake with a cup of tea in rural Ireland at Halloween. The anticipation of ‘the find’ for both children and adults led to great reasons to be spellbound.
It would be terror-able if you missed it. Wouldn’t it…hoa, hoa, hoa?
BRAM BRACK CAKE
Warning: The Halloweens gifts could be small enough to choke on. Make sure everyone is aware that these little gifts are in the cakes. Supervise small children.
1 each of Halloween gifts (a small ring, rag, and coin wrapped in parchment or foil paper).
- 4 cups flour
- 1 cup milk room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups sultanas (white or dark raisins will suffice)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 package of yeast
- 1 cup dried currants (available at any of the supermarkets)
- 1/2 cup candied orange peel
- 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 egg
Sift flour, spices, and salt together, then rub in the butter. Cream the yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the milk. Allow to froth.
Add the rest of the sugar to the flour mixture and blend well. Add the milk and beaten egg onto the yeast mixture and combine with flour mixture.
Beat well with a spoon or with the dough hook of an electric mixer for about 5 minutes, or until stiff but elastic.
Fold in dried fruit and peel, and Halloween gifts - cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled.
Divide in half and place each in a greased 7” cake tin. Cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour, or until it tests done.
Glaze top with 1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water and return to oven for 3 minutes.
Cool on wire rack. Serve in slices, buttered. If stale, toast and serve buttered.
Go raibh maith agat agus Slan Abhaile