Halloween and our heritage as people, parents, and proud descendants of Ireland

Halloween and our heritage as people, parents, and proud descendants of Ireland

WHEN you bring a child into the world and start trying to raise them into good people, you can’t help but think about how you yourself were raised. 

About the emotional and psychological legacy you received from your parents and those who went before them.  And about which aspects of that you’d like to pass on to the next generation.

It’s a big question.  There are plenty of parents who never ask it and who pass on their legacy without thinking about it, with both good and bad consequences for their children.

But I’m not that kind of person.  I’m an over-thinker in almost everything I do, and this can be seen in the way I parent.  I do my best to pass on the positive aspects of my personal legacy and to set aside the negative.

One of the most positive things I inherited is the Irish language and the traditions that surround it.

When I was a child, I didn’t appreciate how special and unique this was and how lucky I was to receive it.

But I do now and that’s why I would like to pass that same legacy on to my son.  It’s important to me that he grows up immersed in the richness of that culture.

That’s a very long-winded way of saying that I’m making a real effort this year to start teaching him the games, verses, and traditions that surround Halloween.

Halloween was a big occasion when I was a child.  We would play games at home.

There would be apples hanging from the ceiling and both adults and children would have their hands behind their backs as they tried to grab bites from them.

There would also be apples in bowls of and again, we’d have to try to remove them with our mouths, not with our hands.  We’d all be soaking wet by the time that game was over.

It’s only now I’m learning the symbolism associated with these games.  Apparently, the Celts associated apples with love and fertility – it’s no wonder they wanted to bite into them!

There were other traditions involving apples too.  It was said that if you slept with the apple you had bitten under your pillow at Halloween, you would dream of your future lover.

Or if you peeled the skin off an apple in one unbroken piece and then threw it over your left shoulder, the letter it most resembled would be the initial of your future husband or wife.

We used to play another game involving four plates.  Wearing a blindfold, you’d have to put your hand in one of those plates.

The contents of the plate would then foretell what lay ahead in the year to come.  Food meant riches.  A ring represented marriage.  Water meant emigration and earth, death.

What a cheery game to play with children!

There were surprises to be found in the barm brack too.

In my house when we were growing up, we all wanted to get the ring or the coin and nobody wanted the rag or the thimble.

If you hold to the superstitions, we were right in our preferences because the ring meant you would marry within the year, the coin that you’d be rich, the rag that you’d be poor, and the thimble that you’d remain an old maid forever.

I intend to play all of those games again this year.

We’ll also carve faces in a pumpkin or a turnip.  We will don masks and costumes and go from house to house looking for tricks or treats.

We will also do one more thing over Halloween and that’s pay a visit to an art exhibition that is taking place in Siamsa Tíre in Tralee.

Its title is ‘A Way Home, and it’s based on a newly-composed tale about Halloween.

It’s a story about a sister and brother who get lost in a forest on Halloween and meet banshees, ghosts, and otherworldly spirits as they try to find their way home.

Some of these spirits are helpful and kind while others are malignant.

But all of them teach the siblings a lesson: Halloween is a special night that was important to our ancestors and it’s worth celebrating it to this day.

It’s a beautiful exhibition in which the work of 20 renowned children’s book illustrators tells the story in image form.  It will tour the country next year.

Keep an eye out for it if you want to once again experience the magic of Halloween that you used to feel as a child, or to share that sense of magic with a young child.