It’s Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve. The 31st of October is the night before All Saints’ Day (All Hallows) in the Christian calendar, or the traditional Celtic festival of Sumhuinn, which marks the end of summer and the harvest, and the onset of a bleak and unsheltered winter.
In reality, it’s the night when the boundary between the living and the dead is blurred and there’s a good chance we could bump into the undead. Ordinarily, their spirits cling to a muted, sunless, drifting landscape that has evicted them from our world and forbidden them entry to the next. But for one night only, they emerge from their dark, brooding existence and put on a wee show, slap bang in the middle of our evening.
Fortunately, there are a number of things we can do to ensure we won’t come into any harm and survive the invasion not just unscathed but truly enriched.
Firstly, light the biggest fire you can (outside, somewhere safe, we’re trying to prevent danger, not create it…) and then light your own fire from it. I’m assuming you have a coal fire or log burner here, if you don’t, maybe lighting a wee candle will suffice. Please do not try to add a burning flame to a living flame gas fire if you have one. This is not clever.
Next, scoop out a turnip, carve a face in it and then add a candle, preferably lighting it from the big scary fire out front. Carrying your melty faced burning turnip with you on your travels, will ward off any evil spirits. Eat the turnip for tea, adding lashings of butter and pepper to make sure you’re protecting yourself from the outside in. (Okay I made this last bit up, it isn’t an ancient tradition but it could be if we just all do it and keep doing it).
Now that you’ve created a fairly formidable triple layer of protection it’s time to engage in some trickery. For this part, you’ll need a costume and a joke, or a wee turn of some sorts. Once you’re in your costume – traditionally this would be something scary like a ghost or a witch – you are ready to go “guising”. Yes, guising, none of this trick or treat nonsense. GUISING. In Scotland we go GUISING.
Your costume will do two things, well three actually. It will help ward of the evil-spirited undead. Not realising you are human that evil crowd of hangers on will allow you to safely leave your home; your guise will also help keep the evil spirits away from the door you are about to arrive at (they’re not keen on gatecrashing at the same time as a fellow spook), and lastly it will lead to riches. Well, riches in the form of sweets, nuts, cakes, fruit and even a few quid if you target your neighbours astutely…
So, costume on and at the door, under NO circumstances should you utter the words “trick or treat” – unless you are in America and even then, pah, don’t get me started. Instead, you should say this:
“The sky is blue the grass is green so what do you have for my Halloween.”
When prompted by the home owner you need to do a wee something in return for your reward; a poem, a joke, a song, anything to remind you and them that you don’t get anything in this life for nothing, especially when the undead are hotfooting it on the same path.
Fortunately, since the repeal of the Witchcraft Act of 1753 in the 1950s, you can now receive a sausage roll on the doorstep without fear of recrimination. Greggs should be making more use of this fact in their advertising. However, if like me you’re vegetarian, you will be grateful for this lack of marketing foresight.
Once you’ve safely dodged the wicked ghouls and witches and have made it back home you can count your wares and then, just for extra fun, have a family member tie your hands behind your back so you can stick your face in a basin of water and dook for apples. The Halloween fun just never stops.
Mind you, sometimes it does. If you’re in love and engaged to be married, you can find out your romantic fate by flinging a couple of nuts into the fire. Whilst we’ve established that this fire is no ordinary fire, there’s more. It also has additional properties.
It’s a love receptacle… The way the wee nuts burn – crackling or spitting or with uneventful destruction – will determine the success of your forthcoming marriage. I’m not going to explore the meanings here, who am I to dampen young love on this scariest of days. We’ve got enough to cope with.
Halloween has been the most special traditional holiday for me for the last 30 years.
On this day, 30 years ago, my beautiful son, Daniel Patrick Michael, was born. A teenager at the time, becoming a mother could have been an utterly terrifying Halloween experience. It wasn’t, it was rich and rewarding and every single day in life I am grateful that I have two gorgeous, loving and loveable children (my daughter was born less than two years later around the same time of year).
Consequently, Halloween has also been about celebrating the miracle of life and over the years we’ve always enjoyed slabs of birthday cake alongside the turnip (never on the same plate but now that I’m thinking about it, it could work..)
So far, we’ve managed to stave of the evil dead. I hope you manage to do the same tonight.