Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oíche Shamhna Shona Dhaoibh

aka Happy Halloween!!

This is one of my favourite holidays, I think mostly because it reminds me so much of my childhood.

Although many people think of Halloween as an American holiday, it is actually of Irish/Celtic pagan origins. And funnily enough, a lot of the pagan practices described online connected with Halloween are still practiced (unbeknownst to many, I think ;) ).

Turnip Jack O Lantern, early 20th Century, Ireland
 As a child, Halloween was always a huge event in our house - with our friends and cousins coming to us for a party.

Surprising by today's standards, we had no fake cobwebs hanging from the ceiling or plastic skeletons or ghouls moaning in the garden. It was 90s Ireland - where kids still made their costumes from black plastic bags, masks from Kellogg's cereal boxes and had those glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth from the local pound shop.

The day was always filled with so much excitement, as we made our costumes and waited for twilight. Then, with some parental supervision (or a coerced older sibling) we would wander through our sparse neighbourhood trick or treating. I remember calling on older neighbours, who would comment on us 'souling' or 'guising' and make us sing a song, tell a story or even do a bit of Irish dancing - earning us a pound or two or in one case, some apples from their trees.

Bags full to the brim with apples, chocolate and fizzy bars, we then would wander home by torch/flashlight - telling our local ghost stories. The haunted room of the local castle, the lady who wandered the abandoned big house across the river, or of the headless horseman, an avid member of the local hellfire club, who wandered our road at night looking for victims. . .

With no street lights, we walked our road till we saw the glow of the jack-o-lantern, sitting outside our porch. I still remember my father cursing in the kitchen from earlier that day, as he tried to carve out the turnip to make it. I don't know when we started to use pumpkins - maybe there were none left that year or maybe my father felt nostalgic for his own childhood. I think that feeling was short lived though, going by the colour of his language and the lack of turniped jack-o-lanterns ever since.

Irish Barmbrack
Once inside, it was like a child's paradise. My mother never spared expense when it came to goodies and treats for occasions. The table was covered with chocolate ricekrispies, treatsize chocolate bars and of course, tayto crisps. In the centre of all this food, sat the Barmbrack, a fruity sort of cake which held a ring inside - guaranteeing marriage in the coming year. Somehow, whether through luck or pure guile, I always managed to get that ring.

On that one particular Halloween, I remember a scary film sounding in the background - but I know our focus was more on the old baby bath my mother filled with water. Apples floating on the top, money sunk at the bottom. My brother and cousins would dive for money, until they were utterly soaked. I preferred the drier option of trying to bite a chunk out of an apple which hung by a piece of string from the door frame.

For me though, the highlight of every year was the bonfire. Some years we had sparklers - my mother fearing bangers would blow our fingers off, but every year we had the bonfire. That year, my father had cut down our overgrown evergreens and had saved them to burn for this night. The bonfire was huge, crackling fiercely each time more rubbish and tree was added. We yelled and screamed, pretending to be witches, banshees and demons as we ran round and round the fire - leaping and dancing, sometimes barefoot - pretending we were those pagans from the past until my mother yelled from the backdoor to come inside, before we caught our death.

Years later, I still remember that night. The flames and our screams with our cardboard cut-out masks as we danced around like mad things under the frosty night sky.

Now that is my idea of Halloween.

So I'm curious, what does Halloween mean to you? How did you spend Halloween as a kid? Did you do any of these things or do you have different family traditions?


June G said...

My Halloween's as a kid were nowhere near as lush as yours. We just went around to the houses, trick or treating for goodies. Now a lot of kids go to shops and businesses to get candy or coins.

As a follower of Christ, I'm not as keen on the scarier aspects and pagan origins as I was in the past...but I remember the goodies fondly.

Congrats, on your recent publishing success Emily!!

Emily Cross said...

Thank you June for your comment and congrats :)

I hope all is well with you and your family.

Great thing about Goodies is that they are universally good :)

Thanks again for stopping by.

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