I loved it a few years ago when the Google Van came round at Halloween and, for a while, the picture of our house on Google Earth showed a grinning pumpkin in the window. Actually, along those lines, in our previous house I was sure I could see a little boy peeping out of our bedroom window on the Google picture (this was pre-children), but when I look at the picture now I can’t see it anymore. Sadly, the pumpkin picture has now been replaced, but it’s still Halloween in spirit everyday in our house. A few years ago, I realised I had overplayed it a bit with my 3 year old son when he woke up, rushed downstairs, excitedly peered out of the window, and was bitterly disappointed that there were no walking skeletons, lurking vampires and flying witches to be seen. The bucket of sweets cheered him up later, though.
The origins of Halloween are a bit murky, but it’s been a popular holiday for at least a few hundred years.
Yesterday I talked about the tradition of “Mischief Night” – in Liverpool it’s the night before Halloween, but in other places it’s the night before Bonfire Night. But Halloween itself was also a day of trickery – and there’s still “trick or treat” of course.
In 1856 this article talks of how “People, young and old, play strange pranks on the evening of the day preceding the first of November.” Strange pranks which can “fill the houses of obnoxious individuals with volumes of smoke” and “disturb the equanimity of octogenarians.” Try saying that after a Bloody Mary.
I’d never heard of “Cracknut Night” before. It was another old name for Halloween at one time, “in allusion to the practice of cracking nuts in the fire on that occasion.”. I love the traditional “youth of today” moan here. The youngsters of 1902 weren’t bothered about your traditions, granddad, they had their “progressive whist and Ping-Pong.” Anyway, the reports of the death of Halloween turned out to be greatly exaggerated.
Some delicious-sounding Halloween treats from 1930. To celebrate properly, you need Midnight Cake, Ghost biscuits, treacle apples and chestnuts. Midnight cake is a cake baked with treacle to make it darkly coloured, and iced as a clock pointing at midnight. Ghost biscuits are two biscuits jammed together and decorated with a spooky chocolate face and a skull and crossbones. I like the Irish mashed potato tradition – filled with thimbles, threepennybits and buttons, like the coin in a Christmas pudding. Then you need to have a treasure hunt for charms, and when they’re all found, hold hands in a circle at midnight and read out your fortune without laughing.
“Time was when this day was the greatest social festival of the Scottish year.” Now the author bemoans the fading away of Halloween in an age where “our civilisation is urban and complicated,” and the rural ways of another age have gone by the wayside. I wonder what he’d say to a Halloween that is arguably bigger than ever, although probably not in a way he’d recognise?