To trick or not to treat....
As a family we’re actually quite into Halloween because my younger son’s birhday is the 29th. So we have a ready-made party theme every year. The year the first Harry Potter film launched, we turned the whole house into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with canvas on all the walls spray-painted as castle stone, black webbing (you know the stuff for smothering weeds on your vegetable patch) was pinned to the ceiling, over-laid with white sparkly Christmas tree lights. A canvas of the Fat Lady guarded the kitchen and the guests had to push their way through further canvas over the porch painted as Station 59 and three quarters, to gain entry.
It may have been a little ambitious. When the guests arrived I was still covered in variant shades of ochre and the fumes created a significantly lighthearted atmosphere amongst the children. But hey ho! Quick wig. Instant Hagrid! ...Though the canvas was somewhat more porous than anticipated and we still have rather a fetching stonework effect in places…
I’m all for tradition and pagan festivals as a rule, but this trick or treating thing just isn’t British.
The semi-Christianesque scare-fest that is Halloween was grafted onto Samhain (meaning "end of summer"). Just as sundown meant the start of a new day, shorter days signified the start of the new year; therefore the harvest festival began every year on the night of October 31. It generally involved the lighting of fires and the reinforcement of boundaries, across which malicious spirits might cross and threaten the community.
The custom of trick or treating is thought to have evolved from ‘souling’, similar to the wassailing customs associated with Yule. On 2nd November, All Souls' Day, beggars would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes" - square pieces of bread with currants. Christians would promise to say prayers on behalf of dead relatives helping the soul's passage to heaven. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits at the Samhain.
But observance of Halloween faded in the South of England from the 17th century onwards, being replaced by the commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot on 5th November.
Frankly I’d rather celebrate Samhain or burn a few Catholics in memory of the Gun Powder Plot than go trick or treating. (Only kidding folks – I’m married to a lapsed Catholic).
But heck! The kids watch too much telly to just take that kind of nonsense from their ever-loving parent. I guess we’ll do it. I don’t want to be a killjoy. Let’s terrorise the neighbourhood!