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Samhain

I’ve discussed jack-o-laterns here yesterday, but the whole turnip/pumpkin thing isn’t the only difference between celebrations in the states and in Ireland this time of year.

So, what do the Irish do for Halloween? Well, first off, it’s called samhain (pronounced “sahwn”) here and the Irish light fires.

Seriously.

Big ones.

Massive bonfires flare up all over the countryside around Halloween. It’s a throwback to some ancient seriously pagan stuff, folks. Samhain is the night when the borders between the world of the living and the dead grow thin and people need some luminent marker to make sure they don’t go wandering off to the wrong side . . . whichever side they happen to be wandering from. *insert demonic laughter here*

Last year the wifey and I were driving down through County Offaly on our way to a gig. It was foggy and dark and we were on country roads. We were running late, so of course we missed some obvious landmark in the mist and got ourselves a wee bit lost. Driving around on the twisting, abandoned country roads we passed about 3 massive bonfires the size of houses. There was noone around any of them, they were just burning solitary like some ancient Viking funeral pyre in the night.

I think when we rounded a corner and were caught offguard by the first one, wifey screamed . . . but she’ll probably deny it.

So, if responsible adults light huge irresponsible fires, what’s left for our youthful miscreants? Ah, never you fear, younger kids go nuts with fireworks and eggs. Now, I did my share of toilet-papering and, yes, egging (not that I’m proud of it), but there is something different about the way it’s done here. One of the main differences seems to be the lack of any pre-meditation; it’s not personal. Egging is done at the drop of a hat anywhere at any house/shop and for no reason.

As for the fireworks, well, those are treated pretty much the same way. Strangely enough, fireworks are illegal in the republic. This year, in fact, the gardai have upped the punishment for possession to 5 years in prison and a €3,000 fine. Yowtch! Nevertheless, people seem to get their hands on them and set them off. Just across the border there are stands along the roadsides manned by opportunistic proprietors who know their target market well.

Also, trick-or-treating is not as popular here. SOME of the people my age here have been trick-or-treating, but for the most part we’re told the zeal for that kind of thing reached Ireland like McDonalds: in the last couple decades as a distinctly American novelty that is slowly becoming more familiar.