A Green Hallowe’en

I’ve always loved Hallowe’en. When I was a child, the children took care of it. It was all about playing out, telling spooky stories and trying to scare each other in the early evening dark after tea. I remember one year cadging a turnip from a farmer so we could make a turnip lantern. I regretted it because the thing was so hard to carve and smelled disgusting when we lit a candle in it. The flesh we’d hollowed out was given to my dad for making soup. He always hated turnip, having eaten so much of it as a child.

When my own children were small, we’d bake Hallowe’en biscuits for anyone who came to the door. There was dressing up, stories, maybe apple-bobbing. I didn’t take my children out to knock on doors, but we sometimes had a party. The most we ever bought for it was maybe hats, and paper plates. One year we were away and the children were staying with the grandparents, so they took Hallowe’en to them by taking their costumes and doing all the stuff we’d do at home. The grandparents had never experienced such a thing before. They talked about it for years.

Then in the last twenty years or so, American Hallowe’en arrived here. There has been a strange explosion of glitter, black plastic decorations like bats, grave stones, spiders and so on. what doesn’t sell before 31st October, is greatly reduced for a week or so, then it all goes into landfill to make way for the Christmas tat. So if you want to have a greener Hallowe’en, buy carefully, store and reuse for a few years, thus avoiding single use plastic. Black plastic cannot be recycled. But better still, make your own decorations. Use crepe paper, DAS clay, which is air-dry and then painted, cardboard painted, and other things easily made from common ingredients. Use face paints instead of masks, or make cardboard masks and attach with elastic. All children really want is quality time with parents, so you can craft away with them at the kitchen table while you are doing little jobs, or watch a film while crafting, or listen to an audio book or a playlist of spooky music..

Trick or treat turned into an excuse for bad behaviour for a misguided minority. Pumpkins took over turnips -probably easier to carve, and just as biodegradable, and a lot prettier. This is because Irish immigrants to American swapped from turnips because pumpkins were cheaper. If you do carve a pumpkin, remember the flesh inside is edible, so great for cooking.

I enjoy having children come to my door dressed up, and giving them sweets, though in 2020, there are dangers around this, and it may be unwise, unless you can do it safely. It is an echo from the Celtic Festival of Samhain, the start of winter. They would lay out food to share and set some aside for their ancestors’ spirits in case they came calling. It’s not necessary to go asking at houses for sweets, which echoes another old custom called wassailing, when poor people would sing souling songs at the rich people’s houses, to be given food and drink, with no suggestion of anything nasty if they didn’t. ” A soul a soul a soul cake /please good missus a soul cake /a plum or a pear, apple of cherry, any good thing to make us merry” is one example. But instead, you could make biscuits or cakes with your children. It’s the icing that makes the difference. Use normal icing sugar with a little colouring added, red and yellow and orange and black, and leave the rest to your children’s creativity. You could always leave a plate in the porch or out front on a table, in case you do get any visitors wanting sweets. Provide paper bags so children can take them home.

On the actual evening, there are lots of fun things you can do at home.

  1. Draw the curtains, turn of the overhead lights and just use lamplight or even candles if you can do so safely.
  2. Story circle – each person adds a bit to an evolving story, which has to fit in with the previous part. Start with something like ‘One dark night in winter, two children were looking for ghosts. They went to an old churchyard and started to walk around, when suddenly… (and the next person takes over).
  3. Each person does a ‘turn’, reads out a spooky poem, sings a spooky song, or does a magic trick, whatever they can contribute. This may need some prep beforehand. Each family member should think of something to offer. I will share a couple of my poems below as a starting point.
  4. Watch an age-appropriate spooky film, cuddled up under blankets and with the lights off. Something like The Addams Family is always fun.
  5. Put some potatoes to bake in the oven, or a stew, and then go on a twilight walk with torches. Count pumpkins; hunt for bats; pick up treasures like autumn leaves and conkers; give everywhere you walk a spooky name based in its features. Come home to the smell of food cooking.
  6. Play hide and seek, but with all the house lights turned off, and everyone armed with a torch.
  7. Select some foods that are suitable for a touch and taste dare. Things like sliced cucumbers, cold baked beans, cold tinned spaghetti, button mushrooms, grated carrot, shelled hard-boiled eggs. Give them scary names on a card placed next to covered bowls, a set for each child. You could cover the bowls with a piece of paper on top with the name on it. You are only limited by your imagination. The rule is the child must first touch the food without seeing it, then taste it. Once they have tasted it, they are allowed to see it, then they can finish it off. No food should be wasted playing this game, and they might even discover they like a food they had not previously tried.
  8. Give each child and adult something they can make a noise with. You may have percussion instruments in the house like shakers and tambourines, but it’s easy to make simple instruments at home, or use something you already have to make sounds, for example, two glasses chinked together. To make your own shaker, but something hard and dry inside a lidded yoghurt pot or a box and seal it up. Some could make their own spooky noise. Whispering can work well. Now you can make your own spooky noises and mimic a haunted house. It works best in the dark, and with gaps left between. Everyone makes their noise in order, and the game goes round until everyone has had enough or someone starts giggling and breaks the atmosphere. If two people make their noise at the same time, the round starts from the beginning.
  9. Write your own spell or curse poems. These usually rhyme and have some repetition. You can make curses against homework, or anything else disliked (not people) or spells to accomplish things like making your toys tidy themselves, your pet able to speak, or anything you’d like to happen. Suit your language to the thing you want, for example if you want to be able to fly, use lots of light words. Share your poems at the end.
  10. Keep things local and find out about some local legends. Everywhere has some. Then share their stories with the family. One of my poems below is based on a local legend about Samuel Johnson, buried near Gawsworth Hall.

Poems to share:

Maggoty Johnson

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Maggoty Johnson loved to dance.
With his cap and bells, he used to prance
and caper up and down on stage.
Now he’s at the skeleton age.

In Maggoty Woods there’s no church near.
The ground’s unholy, it’s dark and drear.
Maggoty chose it specially
as the sort of place he’d like to be.

Maggoty Johnson was called Lord Flame.
Now he’s he goes by a different name.
He haunts these woods and he haunts them well.
Sooner or later you’ll be under his spell.

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Note: Samuel Johnson (1691-1773) was Britain’s last professional jester. He is buried in woodland near Gawsworth Hall, Cheshire, on Maggoty Lane.  A legend says that if you call his name 13 times on Hallowe’en, he will rise up and perform for you. Everything in this poem is true.
‘Maggoty Johnson’ was the only poem to be highly commended in the Cheshire Prize for Children’s Literature and was first published in Word Life (Chester University Press 2011)

Aunt Jane

My Auntie Jane is a funny old stick:
She’s been alive for ever.
She likes to wear a long black dress
a hat with a raven’s feather.

Her skin is pale like marble,
her teeth are gleaming white,
her eyes are hard to fathom
She’ll go out only at night.

She chooses crimson lipstick,
pointed shoes upon her feet,
her hair is swept up high.
I’ve never seen her eat.

I’m not allowed to visit her
without my mum and dad:
she has some quaint old habits:
my friends think she is mad.

Her house is quaintly spooky.
It’s old fashioned, dark and cold.
She hugs me very tightly,
I can’t escape her hold.

She always keeps the curtains drawn
and does not like the light,
there’s not a mirror to be seen
for she claims she looks a sight.

She tells me how she loves me
She’ll eat me up, she cries,
What pointed teeth my auntie has
What terrifying eyes!

My parents say it’s time to go
And wrap me in my coat
They take such special care to tie
my scarf around my throat.

They say Aunt Jane’s eccentric
and is better left alone
with her spooky castle of a house,
her bed carved out of stone.

This poem was included in my children’s poetry collection, The New Generation, (Salt 2010). I still have a few copies for sale.



Filed under Uncategorized

2 responses to “A Green Hallowe’en