Sunday, 30 October 2011

Happy Hallowe'en?

I've been wondering what it is that makes occasions special.
What tingles through the blood like an unbidden electric current?
I'm not quite sure, but I think that for most of us, it's things that hark back to childhood traditions.
Like Hallowe'en.

Yesterday, at the market I belong to, we had a fancy dress parade for the kids.
Well, theoretically it was for the under 12s, but either there are some very tall 12 year olds in Beltra, or else various adults were enjoying a second childhood.
It was great. As you can see for yourself -
A really happy occasion.

But this morning I found myself lying in bed pondering.
I loved yesterday, but it's not a big thing for me, Hallowe'en. It doesn't tingle my blood.
Put it like this, if I suddenly moved to some part of the planet where Hallowe'en was unheard of, I'd never think of it again. Even after living in Ireland for nearly 20 years.
And I suppose that's because Hallowe'en's not lodged somewhere deep within the marrow of my bones.
And it's too late to change that now. I guess marrow develops very early on.

I feel as if I'm chancing my arm by making such a confession, living here, as I do.
Perhaps ghosts and ghouls and witches would haunt me on that distant side of the planet - Irish witches.

Irish witches plotting my downfall.  OF COURSE they're out of focus! Duh!

Well, I suppose it would be no more than I deserve.
Many, many years ago I remember listening to an episode of that wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme - Alistair Cooke's Letter From America, a once-a-week aural capsule that slow-released for days afterwards - I'm sure it started Sunday morning for many of you; always interesting, and sometimes an eye-opener, as this specific one was for me. I was decorating the bathroom at the time (weird how things are anchored in the mind) - and it was with amazement that I learned that Hallowe'en - as it is known and loved by millions today - was imported lock, stock and barrel into the USA by the Irish. I really thought it was the other way round, but no - it is an Irish, or perhaps, more accurately, a Celtic phenomenon.

There's a possibility that it dates back to Roman times apparently, but by and large it grew out of the inevitable - perhaps I should rather say the 'arranged' marriage of Samhain (the Celtic festival marking the end of summer) with the Christian festival of All Souls. Or let's be more accurate still - I daresay All Souls gatecrashed the party in order to make Samhain kosher. (Um, that choice of word probably throws an un-necessary spanner into the works!) However, Hallowe'en got its own back by taking over the medieval custom of 'souling' - when the poor went out begging pennies in return for saying prayers for the dead.


Thegargoyle laughing at the Hallowe'en moon

In Ireland Hallowe'en's a really important festival. It lights up autumn like a great beacon. Families get together, everyone dresses up, houses are decorated and kids start trick-or-treating practically as soon as they can walk. It's even a Bank Holiday weekend. My kids loved it, and I sewed Dracula cloaks, cut up old sheets to create teeth-chatteringly scary ghosts and made fangs and face masks with the best of them. I bought all the usual sweets, peanuts-in-their-shells and traditional Barmbrack to keep by the door, awaiting the dread knock, ready to appease the fearsome (if small) creatures looming in the dark We even got pretty slick at carving jack'o'lanterns - my gorgeous son's intricately chased pumpkin creation remains unsurpassed to this day.

But I have to say, it was a learned response.

Hallowe'en just isn't in my soul.

Maybe it wasn't widely celebrated in my family, or in the West Indies where I lived as a child, and I certainly don't remember it being a feature of life when I moved to England in my teens. The 31st October just isn't a red - or orange-letter day in my calendar. I don't think 'Bah, humbug!' - but there is a blank where witchery-pokery should be. It doesn't resonate.

But Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night! That is a different matter altogether.
When I first moved to Ireland from London, people used to ask if I missed the theatres - the galleries - the shops, and when I paused before replying, the first thing that always sprang to mind was the 5th of November. That was what I missed, and still do.
'Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot, I see no reason why gunpowder and treason, ever should be forgot...'
Well - the gunpowder and treason fell by the wayside long ago. I wouldn't be mad for burning Catholics myself. Or Protestants for that matter.Or anyone.(Although, now I come to think of it, there are bankers out there...)

Glorious Bonfire Night

But like Hallowe'en, the origins have ceased to be material. It's the date that matters, and what you do with it. And the 5th of November still stirs nostalgia within me. The excitement, the anticipation: the shortening afternoon falling rapidly into night, shutting the pets away with their beds and supper, and then out - out into the darkness tingling with expectation, hats and scarves pulled tight against the damp November chill, the massive bonfires starting to crackle in every garden, spitting and licking greedily around crisp autumn leaves. And then, your face smarting with the heat, your back chilly in the darkness, sparklers spelling your name quickly, quickly in white light before they fizzle into burnt, spent sticks between your fingers. And hot sausages and mustard, melting, burning marshmallows and crunchy, tooth-achingly sweet toffee apples that were so impossible to break into. But most of all the fireworks - the fireworks, oh glory be, the fireworks! Explosion after explosion of multi-coloured, glittering fire spilling magic across the sky. You wanted them never to end. And finally, when everything had melted back into darkness, with just the glowing embers telling the night's tale, the smell hanging in the air like a pall. What was it - cordite? Hanging in wreaths so heavy that sometimes it seemed like the first fog of winter.

Now that's what tugs at the marrow of my bones.

Hallowe'en? Bonfire Night? It doesn't really matter what kindles your blood.
As long as something does.

Happy Hallowe'en!


  1. Great post Lorely & good for you for speaking out. We 'I don't like Halloweeners' need to stand together!

  2. Thanks for your comment, J
    I think its more a case of 'I just don't get it' rather than I don't like it!

  3. just seeing if I can yet!


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!