Samhain marks the turning point in the calendar which marks the end of the season of light – harvest – and the beginning of the dark half of the year.
The night of Halloween itself was when charms and incantations are at their most powerful, when people looked into the future and when feasting and merriment were ordained.
Some harvest traditions were simply around the farming calendar – bringing in the cattle for the winter, that all the potatoes had to be dug up by Halloween and that all the oats should be stacked by then.
Others had and have more of a twist! Blackberries and apples were not to be picked after Halloween because Púca spat on these fruits the night after Samhain. In parts of Ireland the old tradition of leaving a symbolic meal for the fairies or Púca on Halloween is still observed. A plate of champ with a spoon would be set at the foot of the nearest fairy thorn (hawthorn or whitethorn) or at the gate entrance to a field on the night of Halloween and on All Souls’ Night (2nd November).
One old tradition is to make thick oaten cakes with a hole in the centre which a string could be threaded through. Any child who came in to collect apples and nuts (nowadays “trick or treating”) would be given an oaten cake to be tied around their neck.
A dish of mashed potatoes, chopped kale or green cabbage and onions. Traditionally cooked in a skillet pot with a large round bottom, three small legs and two ear-like handles at the sides. Eaten by dipping each spoonful into a well of butter. Naughty but delicious!
An Armagh name for another mashed potato dish but with the incorporation of sweet milk and chopped chives or onions. Eaten in the same way as colcannon, by dipping each spoonful into a well of butter.