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Halloween or Oiche Samhain

Halloween Harvest

For those of you with kids going trick or treating this year, you may like to know that in the U.S you are not alone. In fact according to the U.S. census bureau, 36.1 million kids are between 5 and 13 years old in 2006- the prime age for trick or treating. This is down by 45,000 from 2005.

Halloween Parties

There has been some concern about safety going door to door and accidents due to costumes tripping up youngsters or not having the visibility to see obstacles. Many costumes are dark colored and so visibility crossing roads has been an issue too. However 93% of households consider their neighborhood safe and 78% were not afraid to walk alone at night according to the Census Bureau.

Some parents are turning to Halloween parties instead of going door to door. This in fact brings the kids closer to the origins of Halloween as a Celtic harvest festival. In Ireland, where I grew up, we would bob for apples in a basin of water, trying to grab onto it with our teeth, no hands allowed. Also we would tie an apple from a string and again try to take a bite without using our hands.


The Barnbrack

The highlight of dinner on Halloween was the barnbrack. This is a traditional tea cake with fruits in it. Are we seeing a harvest theme yet? The special thing about the barnbrack was that hidden in it was a pea, a stick, a coin and a ring. To find the pea in your slice of the cake meant you would be poor, the coin - that your would be rich, the stick - that you would be boss of the house and the ring - that you would be married.

For safety reasons, many commercial barnbracks no longer have solid objects in them and have pieces of paper instead. However many homes still bake their own and include the traditional items sometimes putting in a rag instead of the pea but with the same meaning. Note that barnbrack can also be spelled barmbrack.

Candy and Halloween 

The Census Bureau also notes that 26 lbs of candy and sweets per person were eaten by Americans in 2006 and it is believed that a large proportion of this is eaten around Halloween. Perhaps honoring the day as a harvest day with fruit and nuts would help offset this large intake of sugar.

In the U.S., there are still some elements of the harvest nature of Halloween with pumpkins both displayed and eaten at this time. A total of  1 billion pounds weight of pumpkin was produced in 2006. Illinois led the country by producing 492 million pounds of the vined orange gourd. Pumpkin patches in California, Ohio and Pennsylvania also provided lots of pumpkins with at least a million pounds weight each.

The Census also provided some interesting places to visit on Halloween

  • Transylvania County, N.C. (29,780 residents).
  • Tombstone, Ariz. (population 1,571).
  • Pumpkin Center, N.C. (population 2,228); and Pumpkin Bend, Ark. (population 307).
  • Cape Fear in New Hanover County, N.C.; and Cape Fear in Chatham County, N.C. (the townships have populations of 15,711 and 1,170, respectively).
  • Skull Creek, Neb. (population 281).

How Halloween got its name

The original harvest festival was a pagan druid Celtic festival called Samhain. Even today in the Irish language, Halloween is called Oiche Samhain. (Oiche means night). When Catholicism came to Ireland and other Celtic centers, the church clergy were not happy to have the population celebrating a festival that centered on pagan spirits. Since the following day was the Catholic church celebration of All Hallows Day, they decided to call Oiche Samhain, All Hallows Eve. Over time this was shortened to Halloween.

So with that, I wish you a happy and fun Oiche Samhain

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