It’s Halloween in a few days time, on 31 October, and already I’ve heard enough people complain about us celebrating an ‘American tradition’ here in Australia that I’m moved to set the record straight.
Halloween isn’t American.
Yes they have a distinctive way of celebrating Halloween in the US with Trick or Treating and rewards for this juvenile blackmail consisting of various types of boiled and hardened sugar, but that’s not where its from.
Halloween, if you go waaay back is related to the old Celtic festival of Samhain, which was the celebration of the ending of the ‘light’ part of the year and the coming of the ‘dark’ part of the year.
Then when the Christians came, like the other big festivals, they put a layer of their own meaning on it. With Easter it was the celebration of new life in Spring, of the goddes Oestra, or the celtic Beltane, and they slapped the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus onto it.
With Halloween taking place on the day before All Saints Day, it was in the Scot’s tongue, Hallow – meaning Holy, and een or e’en meaning eve or evening – the evening before the Holy Day – All Saints Day.
When I was a kid in Glasgow in the 60s both the pagan and the christian meanings sat very comfortably side by side. We dressed up as other people, we were told, because on Halloween the devil had his last big blow out round the world before we all cast him out by celebrating the saints the following day. If we were disguised then he wouldn’t know who we were and would pass us by. Thus the tradition for ‘guising’.
It wasn’t commercialised back then. You’d go to your neighbour’s door and ask ‘anything for Halloween?’ and you’d be invited in to do a ‘turn’. so, you had to have your repetoire ready – a poem, a song or a dance to amuse and entertain and you’d be rewarded with peanuts in their shell (monkey nuts as they were called), sometimes fruit, sometimes sweeties and sometimes (rarely) a penny or two.
As for costumes, it was whatever your mum had in the house. My first guising was when I was four and was dressed as Robin from Batman and Robin with a pair of red tights and a tea towel for a cape. There were lots of ‘Mrs Mops’ because everyone’s mum had aprons and overalls and slippers and mops in the cupboard, and ther would be little boys dressed in their dad’s oversize gear with flat caps.
You’d go to neighbours who knew you, often accompanied by parents and it was all a bit of a laugh.
The city Bakeries produced Halloween cakes – a sponge covered in icing made into a big funny face with imitation cream under the cheeks to puff them out – leading to the saying “He/she’s got a face like a Halloween Cake”.
For games we’d be ‘dookin for apples’ – hands behind the back, trying to grab apples floating in water with our mouths, or if you were like my mum she made us kneel on the chair and drop a fork from our gobs into the bucket to spear the apples.
The other game, which I don’t know what it was called, had slices of bread covered on two sides with jam hanging by thread from the clothes pulley in the kitchen. The object was to eat the bread with just the gob again, resulting in a gloriously sticky messy face.
Oh, and we didn’t have pumpkins but we did have turnips that grew to the size of footballs, so these would be carved out and a candle put in them.
Anyone else have memories of Halloween pre commercialisation? Would love to hear them.