Lifting the spirits

Charles Cowling

 

Circa 1997.  Neither of them became undertakers.

Circa 1997. Neither of them became undertakers.

 

Posted by Kitty Perry

 

When I was a child in the 60s, not a lot happened on 31st October. Casting my mind back and thinking really hard, the only thing I can remember doing is bobbing for apples. Which I did once at a friend’s birthday party. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure that the party was in October.

Fast forward to the 80s. Early one autumn evening the doorbell rang. Three children were standing there wearing cone-shaped hats made from black card.

‘Hello,’ I said, wondering what on earth was going on.

‘Trick or tree-eat?’

I had no idea what they meant.

‘Er, I’ll have a treat – what treats have you got?’

They looked at each other, completely confused. And then went away looking disappointed. Almost as disappointed as me.

By the time I had children of my own I knew a lot more about the traditions of Halloween. Or rather the Halloween that had crossed the pond from the USA: fancy-dress parties, carved pumpkins, green cakes, skull-shaped sweets and half-price offers on bags of fun-size chocolate bars – for the trick-or-treaters. Or as my husband calls them, ‘The spoiled brats who come round wanting something for nothing just as I’m settling down to watch the telly.’ Or words to that effect.

Have we missed our chance to resurrect the Celtic traditions of a night when the ghosts of the dead visit the mortal world? Where are our sacred bonfires and our ghost stories? Is there any hope for a proper ‘Day of the Dead’? Or even a few days of the dead? A time for remembering our ancestors – all of them, not only the ones who died fighting in wars. Culminating in parties and firework displays – incorporation of your dead ones’ ashes would be optional.

Fancy dress? Of course, but not for animals and pets. Sorry Vampire Hedgehog and Freddy Krueger Guinea Pig. You’ll know what I mean if you’re a fan of Bored Panda.

Old traditions combined with new. And, instead of sweets and chocolate, trick-or-treaters would be given fresh locally-sourced produce like turnips and cabbage for delicious home-made soups. And apples for bobbing.

 

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Richard
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Richard

Charles, I agree it’s amusing how rituals evolve from the bottom up as well as from the top down but I don’t see it as ignorance in this context. Both the high and low of society shared an equally strong faith in heaven, purgatory and hell. Tradition can be a body of beliefs and practices which is received, preserved, and transmitted by a community. Tradition in this sense is as much the creator as the creation of the community. 8th century Gregory III, the catalyst for Halloween, was from Syria, Byzantium. He was the last non-European pope until our Pope… Read more »

Jennifer Uzzell
Guest

Following on from this I am bound to say that I know of no evidence to connect Hallowe’en/ Samhain to Paganism prior to Ross Nicholls in the 50s. However, as Charles points out, what it was ain’t necessarily what it is! 🙂

Richard
Guest
Richard

Kitty, allow me to explain why most modern scholars believe Halloween falls on 31 October because the Catholic All Saints Day falls on 1 November, and why this was not a ploy to replace Samhain, an obscure pagan festival in Celtic Ireland to mark the start of winter (virtually the end of every month was a festival of some sort back then). From early Christianity, it was a custom to solemnise the anniversary of a martyr’s death. This was normally done at the church nearest the place where the martyrdom occurred. By the fourth century, neighbouring churches had begun to… Read more »

Charles
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Charles

Richard, that’s quite a history lesson! I like the way the high-ups and know-bests ordain seemly festivities only to see them subverted by ignorance and superstition.

Trick or treating? Begging and threatening. No way to raise a child. Bring back Bob-a-Job week.

Woodland Wishes
Guest

I didn’t know about Día del los Muertos until fairly recently, too bogged down with the commercial stuff ! Now I’m enlightened and so is my six year old ! Its more fun and it has given us a more understanding and acceptance of ‘after death’…. we shall be decorating our alter tonight in memory of my grandfathers before. We need story tellers to enlighten more and more…

Richard
Guest
Richard

PS A good read, Kitty!

Richard
Guest
Richard

All Saint’s Day, or All Soul’s or All Hallows, on 1 November remains a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church, and is a time for bonding between the living ‘Church militant’ and deceased ‘Church triumphant’.

Far from being a British or American practice, it’s been a tradition recorded as early as the 4th century. In Poland today, candles still light up cemeteries at this time of year, as dead relatives are remembered.

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

Didn’t we have a pagan festival at this time of year long before the Christians came along and renamed it? A bit like they did with Christmas? And Easter?!

Jed
Guest
Jed

That’ll be Samhain, Kitty.

Jennifer Uzzell
Guest

There was certainly a pre-Christian festival called Samhain (Summer’s end) which would involve the final harvest and a slaughtering of the livestock that could not be preserved over winter (The Anglo Saxons called November ‘blood month’ for this reason.) Absolutely no evidence to connect this to the dead or the ancestors though. What (very little) evidence there is suggests that in pre-Christian times the ancestors were more likely to have been remembered in early May. Of course, this is not to say that Samhain was not a time of the dead, (absence of evidence is not evidence of absence) but… Read more »

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

I was hoping you might comment Jenny! Do you know why 1st November was chosen for All Saints/All Hallows?

Jed
Guest
Jed

Ah yes RR, in Belgium too, it’s a proper national holiday. On our first All Saints Day living there we thought the rapture had happened and left us sinners alone in the universe. The city was dead, we never thought to visit the cemeteries…

quokkagirl
Guest
quokkagirl

Good post Kitty. Great response Ginny. All Hallows eve, which is a fascinating British invention, has been hijacked by America and sold back to us as a pale and insipid version of itself. I don’t object when little blighters come scrounging for freebies when I’m watching the telly and I quite like having spooky stuff in my window for the little scroungers to see I am Hallowe’en friendly. But I’d so much prefer to return to the sppokier, untamed night of the deathly visitations.

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

In that case quokkagirl, here’s hoping that tonight you have some deathly (but friendly) visitations.

Charles
Guest
Charles

I’d be inclined to give menacing, acquisitive children a dose of rolled-up newspaper. Sorry, is that politically incorrect? It’s my age. I too can remember October in the 60s. I don’t think anything happened on any one of its 31 days. Ever. As to reviving indigenous customs, adding a 21st century twist or two, eliminating the kiddie thrill-fest element and getting down to some serious partying with the forebears — what a lovely idea, Ms Perry!

Andrew Rush
Guest
Andrew Rush

I’m thinking of starting a refuge for lost apostrophes – everyone (apart from Quokkagirl!) seems to have forgotten how to punctuate “Hallowe’en”.

I like your idea of eliminating the kiddies, Charles. More work for us!

😉

“Trick or treat?”

“Sod off.”

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

Andrew – I love apostrophes as much as the next person, and commas. However, and I write this with a tear of nostalgia trickling down my cheek, Halloween is perfectly acceptable. It’s progress innit?

Andrew Rush
Guest
Andrew Rush

It is NOT acceptable!!

It’s not!

It’s not, it’s not, it’s not…

[collapses weeping softly]

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

Im sorry Andrew. Dont cry.

Jed
Guest
Jed

Quokka girl isn’t so hot on sppokier sppellings though 😉

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

You’re right Charles – the only excitement in October for children in the 60s was playing conkers and kicking leaves.

Kitty
Guest
Kitty

Thank you Ginny! My advice would be to answer the door wearing the scariest Halloween mask you can find. The one from the film Scream works well.

Ginny
Guest
Ginny

Depending on the time of day I could do away with the mask idea!

Andrew Rush
Guest
Andrew Rush

How about, “Have you made plans for your funeral? Would you like one of my cards?”

Ginny
Guest
Ginny

Well said, fast forward a few years ( or maybe not) when the immaculate designer dressed skeleton knocking at your door asks if the treats are sugar free, gluten free,don’t contain nuts and other known allergens. If you then offer fruit you must insure they are organic and are grown by a charity co operative. Oh and please can you keep your dog/ cat etc away from them as they are allergic to pet dander! Or just don’t answer the door… 🙂