Friday, November 8, 2013

Trick or Treat?


It’s a well known phenomenon that if America sneezes Britain catches cold. Some things that have infected us from the other side of the water are very welcome; Brad Pitt, ‘Castle’ and Robin Williams. Some not so welcome; spray on cheese, lack of the correct number of vowels in words, MacDonalds.  And the phrase ‘Trick or treat.’
It’s guising!

                                                          Why is this cat so grumpy?

After wandering round a supermarket being bombarded with pumpkins, apples, peanuts all blazing with a  ‘trick or treat’ logo, I felt very nostalgic for dressing up in a sheet, making two holes for the eyes and scaring people.

As a youngster we would dress up in something we had made – not bought. We liked to think we were unrecognizable.  We would go round the doors of neighbours ( with a 'u') and ‘do a turn.’ -  sing a song, tell a joke, do a dance. Wickedpedia says “In Scotland, youths went house-to-house on 31 October with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed.”
This is sounding more like it!


There were some strange goings on. Treacle scones would be dangled from the ceiling on a rope and then covered in lashings of dripping sticky treacle. Some poor sod would then have their hands tied behind their back and then attempt to eat the aforesaid scone, now swinging happily on its rope. And happily smacking them in the face.  If it didn’t- if it  hung still enough to let the poor sod have a nibble, a ‘friend’ would give it a good shove…right in the face of the nibbler, rendering them a treacle face and therefore unrecognisable.
                                              These are sophisticates, using a newspaper as a bib. 

Small children would have to kneel on a chair, backwards (hope you are following this). Under them was a basin of water full with bobbing apples. The child would hold a fork in their teeth and drop it, trying to spear an apple. This is precision forking.
 I believe that bobbing is world wide but we call it 'dookin'.  Kneel down and stick their head in the basin, trapping apple between teeth and basin bottom… dead easy you say. So far so good, they get an apple and might even get the treacle washed off their face.
Not so easy to do while your pals are resting one foot on the back of your head.
I don’t recall ever having a pumpkin. We used to hollow out a turnip… and use the middle for soup. If skint we’d use a big potato. We carried the turnips and their enclosed candle through the streets keeping the ghosts away…. As the candle cast fearful shadows through the holes in the turnip, the scariest thing was the turnip itself. I wonder if there is a word for turnip phobia.
                                                        This is a mangel wurzel. Seemingly.

Wickedpedia says….blah blah by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins". These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in 19th century, known as jack – o’- lanterns.

It also says "particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers". As early as the 18th century, "imitating malignant spirits" led to playing pranks in the Scottish Highlands. Halloween lanterns didn’t spread to England until the 20th century, maybe due to a lack of turnips.

The term Halloween comes of course from the Scots term for All Hallows' Eve, i.e. the evening before All Hallow’s Day. Although the phrase "All Hallows'" is Old English for the mass day of all saints.  Wickedpedia again; ‘It initiates the tridiuum  Hallowmas the time in the  liturgical  year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs and all the faithful departed believers.”

Or in Glasgow, just dress up in case the ghouls get you.

Wickedpedia goes on to say that it is a Christian festival influenced by the Celtic harvest festivals and their pagan roots. Pagans would mark the end of the harvest season and beginning of the 'darker half' of the year. Spirits could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. They had to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the souls of the dead who were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them.
It made sense, looking into a long dark winter, the good spirits had to be with you to survive. The nuts, the fruit, the fire, all that they needed to see them through and if the odd dead relative popped in that night for a wee dook of an apple,   even better.
                                                           pagans having fun.
The lighting of bonfires by the ancient Celts was a tradition carried on into Halloween to frighten away witches but we now do that on 5th November to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night.

I didn’t know the connection between Halloween and the Danse Macabre in continental Europe, France in particular. The danse is the dead of the churchyards rising for one wild, hideous carnival at Hallowe'en.
                                                  Bernt Notke: Surmatants (Totentanz) in St. Nicholas' Church, Tallinn.

Then I read this;-

 “North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there. The Puritans of New England, for example, maintained strong opposition to Halloween, and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America in earnest. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.”

Sounds like a Halloween hoolie to me!

Hope you had a good one and the ghouls didn't get you.

Caro  08/11/2013


  1. Wow, Caro, I never realized before reading this post that of all the great things we've gained from the "Old World," one particular lesson of Halloween night stands out above all others. No, not that all the ghosts and ghouls come out to play (though come to think of it they may have played a part) but how the considerable investment of time and capital going into that one night, benefits so many--from farmers to launderers-- and no doubt gave rise to the once very fashionable phrase "treacle down economics"!

  2. Jeff, I think you need to turnip new leaf and cut back on the scary puns!

  3. I was actually looking forward to a blog from you mourning the fact that Guy Fawkes failed. But this was delightful nonetheless. The Scots seem to be involved in everything.