'All Hallows Eve'
Right now I am enjoying the peace and quiet of a post Halloween moment. Having parted with a ridiculous amount of sweets and chocolates to various goblins, vampires, devils, zombies and who knows what else, I can sit back and relax. I can also watch the extremely satisfied expressions on the faces of my children and their friends while they survey the extent of their loot. Normally the amount of sweets spread out on my living room floor would send me into an apoplectic fit but this is one time in the year that I let my children indulge themselves in a chocolate fest.
The first time I was exposed to the full extent of Halloween was a very long time ago when I was seven years old. We were visiting my aunt in Washington and as it happened to be Halloween, one of my older cousins offered to take me trick or treating around their neighbourhood. At the tender age of seven the thought of going to people's houses, saying 'trick or treat' and then being given sweets for no apparent reason was both strange and wonderful. Despite not having a costume like most of the other children I had a great time. When I came back to my aunt's house laden with a huge bag of goodies, my brother and my cousin who shall remain anonymous, decided it was in my best interest for me to abstain from eating all the sweets by myself and relieved me of most of my hard earned booty! Talk about 'taking candy out of the mouth of babes'! Nevertheless Halloween that year was an experience that I always remember with great fondness and perhaps why I find myself slightly more inclined to indulge my children on Halloween.
The origins of Halloween actually date back almost 2,000 years ago to the Celts (in and area that is present day Ireland, United Kingdom and Northern France) and the Celtic festival of 'Samhain'. The Celts celebrated their New Year on the first of November and they believed that on the eve of New Year, the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred. The spirits of the dead walked the earth and wreaked havoc. To celebrate the occasion huge bonfires were lit and animal sacrifices were made to please the Celtic deities and the Celts wore costumes made from animal heads and skins. Even when the Romans ruled over the Celts, two Roman festivals were combined with that of Samhain. Eight hundred years after that, when Christianity had reached the Celtic areas, November 1st was designated All Saint's Day which was a time to honour saints and martyrs. It was also called All-Hallows-Eve, which eventually became Halloween. In A.D. 1000 the second of November was made All Souls Day (to honour the dead) and was celebrated with bonfires and people dressed up in costumes representing saints, angels, devils etc. This tradition has evolved into what we know as Halloween with children dressing up in costumes similar to that of those worn in latter day pagan celebrations.
Halloween is more commonly celebrated in the west, mostly in the United States and Canada, and more recently seems to be gaining popularity in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. When I was growing up in London, Halloween was never a big deal, as my husband says the extent of Halloween when we were kids was telling scary stories by candle light. But these days it is becoming increasingly commercialised with all kinds of costumes and accessories available not only in departmental stores but also in small newsagents and corner shops. However, I think having costumes for pets is taking things a bit too far. Would you want your dog dressed up as a pumpkin? I think that thought is scary in itself. During the run up to Halloween, special sweets and chocolates are sold as well. These tend to be in the shape of bats or spiders to add to the whole spooky, scary atmosphere! I suppose for children (and adults) Halloween is just another excuse to have a bit of fun and be frivolous for one night.
It is actually rather fun to get a pumpkin and carve a scary face on it and put it in the patio. The kids look forward to it and it is something that we do together. I am duly impressed with some of the faces that are carved into the pumpkins, displayed in other people's houses as some of them are extremely intricate and complex. As we have a communal garden at the back of our house, we have hordes of children coming around trick or treating and it is very heart warming to see the excitement and enjoyment on their faces (unless they happen to be wearing masks in which case I am assuming they are having fun!). There is also an unwritten code which the kids seem to be aware of; at least it is where we live, which implies that houses with pumpkins or decorations on the porch or window are the houses you go to. This avoids children knocking on doors of houses that are not participating in the Halloween celebrations and inconveniencing them. It also stops the kids being disappointed when the people in question do not have any sweets to offer them.
Much in the way that the Celts used to feel that All Hallows Eve was the last day of summer and the cold grey winter was to follow, I echo that feeling. There is a chill in the air that did not seem to be there a few days ago and the days are getting shorter a sure sign that winter is upon us. Well right now I can see the candle in our funny faced pumpkin flickering --- probably a sign telling me to bring it in and bid this years Halloween adieu at least till next time…
(R) thedailystar.net 2006