Hallowe’en is a very important festival. It marks the coming of the winter and was traditionally an ancient Celtic feast called Samhain. The Celts would have a bonfire and feast, and tell stories of their ancestors. When Catholism came to Britain, the old festivals were very neatly jigsawed onto the Celtic ones, so the transition to a new religion would be smoother. The first of November became All Saints Day, and Hallowe’en simply means the eve of All Hallows, or All Saints.
However, such is our love for stories and all things spooky, Hallowe’en still has Samhain features and is when we can let rip and have a great time with spooky things. Such excuses for fun are needed as part of the rite of passage from one season to another, and to cheer up the dull winter days.
Here are some tips to enjoy the night:
1) Trick or Treat has been misunderstood and sometimes is used as an excuse to be unpleasant. What it actually means is ‘give us a treat or show us a trick’. It works best when a group of children work together and knock on doors to show off their costumes and receive sweets or are told a story etc. If parents are nervous about letting their children out, then accompany them and wait at the end of the road. This can be a really nice way to get to know neighbours.
2) Rather than buying sweets, make gingerbread and cut it out in Hallowe’eny shapes and decorate with black icing, which you can buy in tubes from the supermarket. This is more wholesome as well as more fun, and you can involve your own children in making them.
3) There is no need to buy fancy costumes. Today’s masks are cheap to buy and very realistic, so let them do the work. Black clothes are effective enough, but do make sure children wear a safety arm band if they wear black, red or any other dark colours. White can be even more spooky as it shows up well in the dark, and ghosts are white. Make-up can be just as good as a mask and a lot cheaper.
4) Pumpkins are widely available now, although turnips are just as good, if a little harder to carve. Don’t waste the inside, scoop it out and use in soup. Once the inside is removed cut out eyes, triangular nose and a smiling mouth and use a tealight inside. Make sure you place it well out of the reach of children. On a window sill is ideal as trick or treaters can see it and will be encouraged to knock.
5) Some people do not agree with celebrating Hallowe’en because they feel it is evil. However, that is being very literal minded. Hallowe’en is about fantasy, but it is worth reminding children that witches, ghouls etc are characters in stories and not real. The devil is not actually a person, but a personification of evil, from the mediaeval mytery plays. If you are nervous about all the implications, stick to fairies and wizards, creatures which have less of a ‘bad press’.
6) One of the pastimes of Hallowe’en is apple bobbing. This is best done outside because it is messy. Place some apples in a bucket or washing up bowl of water, where they will bob on the surface. The game is that the children have to try and pick up an apple in their teeth. Have some little prizes handy, as the apple alone is not likely to be a sufficient reward, as it once was. You can also adapt other games such as pin the tail on the donkey can become pin the nose on the witch. Trick or treaters will enjoy these games if you are not actually having a party.
7) Hallowe’en food can be anything spicy, such as chili con carne, which also works well with quorn for the veggies. You can also draw a spider’s web on the top of soup by pouring cream in circles and them drawing a knife through them so they run into each other at intervals. Parkin is a traditional cake at this time, easy to make and can also be bought in supermarkets.
8) Adults can enjoy Hallowe’en too. The stories of MR James, HG Wells and many others can be read, or watch the BBC versions of the MR James stories on DVD. There are many good scary films if you want to have a film night. My all time favourite is the old black and white ‘Night of the Demon’, based on Casting the Runes by MR James.
9) My children’s poetry book, The New Generation, has several poems based on Hallowe’en fun. Here is one:
Witch in the Supermarket
There’s a witch in the supermarket over there
After Fowler’s treacle for her flyaway hair,
Buying up nail-varnish – black or green?
Rooting in the freezer for toad ice-cream!
There’s a witch in the supermarket next row on
Asking where the Tinned Bat’s Ears have gone,
Mutters, ‘Why do they always change things round?
Mouse Tails and Rats’ Tongues can’t be found!’
There’s a witch in the supermarket down that aisle
Searching for something to blacken her smile,
She’s a trolley full of tins for her witch’s cat
Who simply swears by Bit-O-Bat.
Times are difficult and Bovril has to do
Instead of newt’s blood for a tasty stew;
Sun-dried bluebottles crunchy and sweet,
Dessicated spiders for a Hallowe’en treat.
There’s a witch in the supermarket at the till
Scribbling her cheque with a grey goose quill!
There’s a witch at the checkout, look, mum, quick!
Piling up her shopping on a big broomstick!
The book is available on Amazon for just over a fiver at the moment. It is published by Salt publishers. It is also in the London Review Bookshops Christmas Catalogue, on a different offer.
10) Making up your own stories and poems is so much fun. You can do it in a story ring, where one person starts and then stops at an exciting moment. Or do a list poem based on:
what does a witch put in her cauldron?
what books does a vampire read?
where does a ghost haunt?
Some of the old ballads tell great stories about evil fairies (Tam Lin for example), murders and dead lovers haunting.
In short, lets really enjoy this strange little festival where we can let our imaginations run free! Happy Hallowe’en.