This year, more than any other so far, the growing interest in celebration for Halloween seems to have increased amongst adults, children and superstores alike within the UK. Any discerning mutterings of European recession from worried Chancellors would appear to fall on deaf pixie ears as Halloween decorations and costumes fly off the packed shelves around the country. Every shop from the local greengrocer to the florist is ablaze with bright orange pumpkins beckoning passers-by to purchase for carving their very own gruesome jack-o-lantern. Even the large branded confectionary manufacturers have jumped on to the ghost-wagon and have created eerily coloured alternatives from their usual family favourites. Within our own household the Cadbury’s ‘Scream’ Egg seems to be the current favourite.
With this phenomenon in mind, I conducted a small –scale survey amongst the shopkeepers within our own village as to why Halloween celebration grows year on year within this country. I wanted to find out where they thought the drive was behind its success ( it’s bigger than Easter in many inner city areas of latter years) ,and why children love it so much.
The general consensus I received was that of success driven by people’s imagination and the vibrant colours used within the merchandise. Everyone appeared to be unanimous in stating the commercial drive had initially appeared from American influence during the 1970’s and 80’s and had grown from there. Halloween is an evening of fun and the sheer joy of ‘trick or treating’ can be found at the top of almost every primary school aged child once October arrives. And as one brave shopkeeper pointed out to me ‘there is something innate within us which loves the thrill of the scare’.
So having observed the current approach to Halloween, I felt it was time to delve into the history of the festival and trace some origins of the favoured games we play on 31st October.
The festival of Halloween actually dates back to the Druids of ancient Britain. The final night in October indicated the end of the calendar year and was believed to be the night the dead returned to earth wishing to visit the living. For this reason people would dress to look like ghosts and spirits in the hope the ‘visitors’ would not harm them in any way. Guises as wolves in woven fur were often used, as well as hooded cloaks for individuals to hide their identities. Rituals would often be carried out on this night to identify any evil spirits within the living also. The Druid’s pagan day was eventually adopted by Christians around 850 AD and made ‘All Hallow’s Day’, or a time of honour for the saints of the church. ‘Hallow’s Eve’ or Hallowe’en was adopted as a major holiday ( in Old English it was known as ‘ealra hālgena mæssedæg’ – mass day of all saints).
Due to this festival occurring around the same time as the Celts flame orientated celebrations of ‘Samhain’, fires have always played a great part in Halloween custom. Since ghosts, witches and other evil spirits were meant to be afraid of flames it was only natural that this was observed on Halloween. Groups of village folk would stand around a large burning fire and throw rocks into the middle. Anyone throwing an exploding rock on this night would be deemed to possess evil within their souls and would be banished from the village to the next.
The use of jack-o-lanterns originally came from Ireland during the early medieval times. There the children hollowed out turnips and potatoes and cut out faces in them to ward off bad spirits. This custom came from the tale of the dead ‘Irishman Jack’ who was not welcome in heaven or hell. In order to light his way to a resting place, he carried a hollowed out turnip with the embers from Hell inside.
Much of the folklore and activity followed on Halloween to date comes from Ireland. This was carried to America between the 17th and 19th centuries when many thousands migrated across to the States igniting the imagination of many homeland children along the way.
Since those original days of religious superstition, Halloween has taken on a life of its own and today we continue to add our own spooky games , ranging from apple-bobbing, doughnut ducking and pumpkin carving competitions. Ladies down the ages have tried out the Victorian ritual of gazing into a mirror at midnight on Halloween, candle in left hand, apple in right, to tell who they will marry. The advent of film has also introduced a great plethora of spine chilling stories to frighten the most hardened of Halloween fans and keep us awake at night.
But one question still remains to be answered…. What do the spirits make of it all when October 31st arrives….?
© Tess Egerton Halloween 2011
It was Halloween night. All the children in the neighbourhood were very excited and preparing to go trick or treating, bobbing apples and exchanging spooky stories. But near the end of the street at number 13, Veronica Snarklethorpe sat in her room glowering from underneath her glasses and plotting her next nasty plan.
Veronica was a horrid girl. She was lazy and naughty and loved nothing more than spoiling everyone else’s day. She disliked anything good. She hated healthy food and would throw dinner away after mum had made it.
She left sweet wrappers, doll’s clothes,books and bubble mixture all over her bedroom floor whenever she could and would leave toffee grow mouldy in her cupboards and boxes, just to upset mum and dad. She also didn’t believe in Halloween at all. The idea of other children getting to houses before her to pick up all those doorstep sweets was too much for her to bear so she cancelled it from her calendar and plotted to create her own mayhem instead.
Tonight Veronica Snarklethorpe would dress in a thick black cloak and hide in the shadows,then she would wait until the child with the fullest treat bucket trailed past and she would pounce! She would steal all the sweets and take them back to her den…Veronica sniggered eerily. She would make this night her own.
However, this was Halloween and Veronica was about to experience a night to remember.
Delighted with her plan, Veronica decided to wander downstairs and see what revolting food she could face from the kitchen. As it happened, tonight mum had made Veronica’s favourite. It was fish fingers and chips with red jelly. For once, Veronica was thinking of being a good girl and sat down to dinner happily. Mum brought the jelly out of the fridge and placed it on the table. As it was Halloween, mum had decided to place plastic spiders, cats and witches on the jelly to make it look spooky. Veronica took one look and exploded. First she turned as red as the jelly, then she went purple. Her hands made little fists and she stamped her feet as hard as she could.
“You know I hate Halloween! You’ve spoilt my jelly!! I won’t eat anything else for the rest of the night! “she screamed. Then she raced upstairs to her room in a rage.
After slamming her door very very hard, Veronica flew around her room like an angry hurricane, pulling clothes out of drawers onto the floor, stamping on toys and pouring lemonade all over her carpet. Mum was knocking her door agitated and upset, so Veronica put on her black cloak, climbed out of her bedroom window and down the drainpipe into the night.
Still holding onto her tantrum, Veronica vowed to catch the biggest loot of the night and soon found a garden-side bush to nestle in. She waited for a few minutes and saw a small group of children run past with a few small goodie bags.
“No,too many children “ she thought “ I’ll wait a bit longer”.
Within a couple of minutes she heard some more voices. She waited and waited. The voices were approaching laughing and muttering and Veronica peeked around the bush. But no-one was there.
“Odd” she thought. So she crept forward a little more. But there was still no sign of a single person. Where WAS that laughing coming from when it was so close?
Suddenly Veronica felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around and there stood a small boy, very pale… almost transparent really. Veronica jumped a little, but defiantly refused to show it.
“ Hahahhaah!! “ laughed the little boy. “ You don’t believe in me do you?”
“ Who are you?” asked Veronica indignantly. “ I DON’T believe in you because I don’t know who you are!”.
“ I’m Casey” echoed the boy in a ghostly voice “ I am here every year but you never see me. Tonight it’s your turn to follow me on an important Halloween trail.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Veronica scoffed and she started to move away. As she turned to walk something grabbed her ankle and something else held tightly onto her arm.
“Arrgh!” Veronica shrieked. “What’s THAT?”. Casey shook himself into a glow and shed some light on Veronica’s arm. The bush had kept hold of her. It started to talk.
“ Not so fast missy! How many times have you thrown sweet wrappers into me on the way to school? How many times have you snapped my poor branches for fun? Tonight is my night to get my revenge on you. You must go with Casey and follow his lead straight away… OR ELSE!”.
Veronica flinched and shook her head a few times to make sure she wasn’t somehow stuck in an awful nightmare. She closed her eyes and opened them, but Casey was still there….
“ BOO!” he shouted , then laughed loudly and heartily.
Veronica didn’t like this at all, but had no choice.
“Come on” coaxed Casey, “I have to take you back home.. it’s time”.
“Time for what?” asked Veronica
“ You’ll see….” said Casey mysteriously.
The journey back seemed to take ages and ages as Casey floated ahead of Veronica. Every Jack-o-Lantern frowned and grimaced at Veronica, every cat hissed and arched its back, bats flew out from no-where and fluttered angrily in her face.
They finally arrived at Veronica’s house. The door was wide open, mum and dad had gone to look for their cross little daughter around the neighbourhood.
Casey led the way as they entered the house .
“Ok, you can go now” snapped Veronica nastily.
“ Not yet” said Casey. He grabbed her hand and shrieking all the way Veronica was transported into her room . Casey stood in the middle of the room , made a jangling sound and shouted to the room;
All of a sudden a cacophony of noise started as drawers opened and closed madly, chanting and complaining, the carpet started moaning, the lemonade rattled and danced about angrily , making a horrid clattering sound. Veronica’s bedroom door slammed shut, then open again and green sludgy goo ran from the bottom of her bed.
“We don’t like you” they all shouted.
“You are nasty and mean” they screamed.
“ Aaaagggh! Stop! Stop!” howled Veronica. “I’ll do anything , just please stop”.
The mayhem subsided and Casey began with the “new girl“ rules.
“Pick the clothes up and put them away, close your door-don’t slam, clean the carpet, pick up the sweet wrappers and above all, BE NICE!”
Veronica had had such a fright , she did as she was told and apologised to all the grumbling objects in her bedroom. Just as she was finishing the last of the cleaning, she could hear her mum’s voice calling her. Casey gave Veronica an approving wink and disappeared back into the night.
Exhausted from her night’s exploits, Veronica flopped onto her newly clean bed and fell fast asleep.
When she woke up in the morning, mum was standing over her asking if she’d had a bad dream.
“I had an awful night mum, there was a ghost and the drawers were being nasty to me and … didn’t you go looking for me?”
“No dear, we all had a quiet night last night. You must have had a nightmare, poor thing. Now come and have some healthy breakfast before school”.
“Yes mum, that’ll be lovely” smiled a new, happy and well behaved Veronica Snarklethorpe.
Halloween would never be the same again.
©Tess Egerton 2011
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