|If you were to ask a stranger on the street what came to mind when they thought of Irish holidays, most would probably say St. Patrick’s Day. While St. Patrick’s Day is indeed a widely known and celebrated holiday, it is far from the only day the Irish find time to celebrate and honor history. From the Celtic Halloween celebration to St. Stephen’s Day, read on to learn about other less-known yet vibrant Irish holidays and festivals.|
Samhain– Samhain was originally the Celtic New Year. Ancient Celtic farmers knew that the sun was essential in helping their crops to grow, so they thought that they became winter’s prisoner as the sunlight began to fade in the fall. The farmers wanted to hold a celebration to honor the sun, ensuring that it would return the following year, and they began having a festival on October 31. A large bonfire would be lit on a hillside while all other cooking fires were extinguished, and the farmers and their community would pray for the sun to return after the cold months were over.
The day after the bonfire, villagers would return for pieces of the extinguished fire, meant to burn in their own homes to bring good luck. Tradition also says that the farmers dressed up in costumes made of animal skins, because this was also supposed to ward off bad luck. It is because of this that Samhain or Halloween is celebrated today. Today in Ireland children dress up and walk from door to door carrying lighted lanterns to look for treats.
Midsummer’s Day– Midsummer’s Day is celebrated in the peak of summer with country fairs featuring dancing and singing in abundance. The festival’s focus is on Celtic fire, representing and celebrating the middle of summer and acknowledging the days will become shorter on the way to winter. This festival is traditionally held on the 23rd or 24th of June, even though the longest day of the year technically falls on June 21st. In ancient times, stone circles and monuments were set up to welcome the sunrise on Midsummer’s Day.
St. Stephen’s Day– St. Stephen’s Day is a Celtic religious holiday, celebrating the life of Ireland’s first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death shortly after Christ’s crucifixion. St. Stephen’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland but the celebrations actually don’t have much to do with the Saint himself. In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is traditionally the day for “Hunting the Wren”-many years ago groups of boys would go hunting for a wren and hunt it until the bird was caught or it died from exhaustion.
The bird was then tied to a pole and decorated with ribbons or colored pieces of paper. The band of boys traveled from house to house with the wren that evening, singing traditional songs and collecting money. It is thought that those who gave money to the boys were given a feather from the wren in return, for good luck. All money collected by the band of Wren Boys was used to host a dance for the entire village.
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