Tuesday 31 October 2023

Traditional pursuits in October


            Traditional pursuits in October – part 4

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

October 31st is All Hallows’ Eve or Hallowe’en. It is the day before All Saints’ Day when Christians remember the faithful departed. Traditionally, people would attend a vigil at church on All Hallows’ Eve, praying and fasting before the feast day and placing lighted candles on the graves of their dead. 

The modern celebration of Hallowe’en originated in the Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts believed that the boundary between life and death became ill-defined and blurred on this night and the spirits of the dead, the ‘ghosts’, returned to earth. To keep them at bay bonfires were lit and the people dressed up as monsters and animals to frighten away the fairies who might otherwise kidnap them.

Hallowe’en has developed into a commercial industry, in a similar fashion to Christmas and Easter. The religious elements have been overtaken by Mammon. I have heard some say that Hallowe’en is their favourite time of the year.

I have very mixed feelings about Hallowe’en. It is fun for little children to dress up and go out at night when they might otherwise be going to bed. The outfits may be appealing and are ‘available at countless outlets’.  I must admit that a baby or toddler dressed as a pumpkin looks very sweet. My first difficulty comes with their expectation of receiving sweets from strangers and the expense incurred in acquiring ‘suitable’ costumes.

The youngest children are accompanied by adults and usually go only to the houses of friends at the very beginning of the evening, soon after dark has fallen. This is the most innocent group, usually dressed as fairies or winsome witches or appealing baby ghosts or dashing pirates or junior devils or chubby skeletons, all outfits ‘available at countless outlets’. They are excited and sometimes a little apprehensive. Some are overcome and become frightened and who can blame them?     

                                        A field of pumpkins        

The next group consists of older children, still accompanied by adults. They go only to the houses with lighted pumpkins – a sign that there will be goodies to fill their pumpkin baskets which are ‘available at countless outlets’. Their costumes may be a little less attractive, gruesome masks being a favourite feature among the boys, though the girls may still favour pretty outfits. (Is that gender-critical?)

There is no doubt that the participating adults providing tooth-wrecking confectionery enjoy seeing many different groups of children throughout the evening. For those whose own children have grown and flown or who have never had children it can be a magical experience and I’ve seen the pleasure they gain. Less acceptable is the grab and go attitude of some of the children and the comparison of baskets and the lack of any sort of gratitude for the things they receive. However, some are very grateful and even overwhelmed.

My second difficulty comes with the ‘decoration’ of houses. Some householders go to tremendous efforts to trick out their houses and gardens with artificial spiders, webs, skeletons, severed limbs, ghosts, ghouls, witches, warlocks, devils, bats,(even though the bats are hibernating) gravestones, all ‘available at countless outlets’ and not forgetting the carved pumpkins, which are not always ‘available at countless outlets’. Some people appear at the door in grotesquery to outdo anything the children might achieve.

Once the young children have filled their buckets and gone home, perhaps longing to eat their winnings but being told they must share them with others or ration themselves to ‘one a day’ for ever and then having a tantrum, the older children emerge. Some of the young children will have been stuffing sweets into their mouths as fast as possible as they traverse the streets and will be looking rather green about the gills.

The older children are the younger secondary school children, with more sophisticated tastes and habits, more startling costumes ‘available at countless outlets’ and a greater ability and maybe desire to shock. They prowl the streets in herds, striking fear into the hearts of the unwary. They are not seeking sweets alone but the opportunity to make an impression, good or otherwise.

Following them and probably the final cohort, if you’re lucky, are the older teenagers, grotesquely or seductively clad in costumes ‘available at countless outlets’ and quite possibly carrying cans of cheap, sickly alcohol and therefore finding everything screamingly funny. They travel in tribes and may be inclined to foolish pranks, such as overturning dustbins or lighting fireworks in the street.

Some adults organise Hallowe’en parties, with ghoulish refreshments in the form of coffins, bats, witches’ fingers (!) and repulsive drinking vessels. Guests apparelled in hideous costumes ‘available at countless outlets’ and with make-up bloodthirsty sufficient to make the strongest soul blench arrive to enjoy the evening.

My overriding difficulty is concerned with the reasons for celebrating in the way we do. Why do we manufacture horror when there is so much real terror in the world? Is it a way of inuring ourselves to it? Are we desensitising ourselves?

Nonetheless, I know my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, dressed for the occasion, will be out and about on Hallowe’en, in London, Berkshire, Hampshire and Dorset. They will enjoy themselves, I’m sure, despite their grumpy older relative. 

 From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord deliver us.

 Old Scottish prayer 

                           Squashes  and orange pumpkins  


  1. My biggest problem with Halloween is the candy. You spend a lifetime teaching your kids to never take candy (or anything else) from strangers, then one night each year you send them out to do just that. most kids understand it's a one-night treat, but there will be some who think if t os okay this time, why not every time? Then as you said, there is the cost involved with costumes and house decorations. it would all be easier if the tradition was kept to the simpler styles of years past.

    1. I agree. I think it's a case of America leading the way and the rest of the world following, as usual.(That probably sounds a lot sourer than is meant.)

  2. The commercial aspects have gone too far. And all that those plastic webs ought to be illegal because of the dangers to animals.

    1. I agree. So much plastic 'tat', so many animals endangered.

  3. Whilst we have a few decorations out in our house for the grand children to enjoy, our house will be in darkness tonight.

  4. It's great fun, no matter what age you are....
    Look at me...I'll be out and about to~night
    with my wheelbarrow, pink of course, l shall
    need it, loads of goodies to bring home....! :).
    I shall be ALL dressed up, mask, pointed hat
    etc..armed and extremely dangerous....! :(.
    HeHe! And if you believe that....! :O).

    Who did the ghost take on a date?
    His ghoul-friend...
    Why wouldn't the ghost dance at the party?
    He had no body to dance with him...
    What position does the ghost play in soccer?
    What's a ghost's favorite dessert?
    Where do ghosts buy their food?
    At the ghost-ery store!
    How do you know when a ghost is sad?
    He starts boo-hooing...

    Hope you 'ALL' have a frightening day, and
    even scary night....! Boo! :O).

  5. I agree with you about our obsession with Halloween horror over here. I have never liked that part. As a kid it was fun to dress up, but I'm talking 60 years ago,lol. And our neighbors gave only one item per child. Today, people just dump fistfuls of candy into over sized bags. And then I see the TV ads for the most gross "haunted houses" to go scare yourself into a heart attack. I don't like these things and don't think either are necessary for little ones to have some dress up fun.

    1. We're singing from the same song sheet. Less is more.

  6. I don't mind Halloween. Our children are grown and have left the nest but we welcome trick or treaters here, it's all just a bit of fun and we like to join in with that.

  7. Before I started blogging in 2005, I had never heard of Halloween, it just didn't exist in my part of Germany and in Belgium either. But then I saw the American blogs decorated and became curious because it's strange that such a foolish fest is just before the 1st November which celebrates the deaths here and all people run once a year to a cemetary which they had forgotten the whole year. So on the 31 Oct, I googled for Halloween and saw all kind of horror things which made me laugh, because I thought I could decorate the graves the next morning. And then maybe 15 years ago schools started with Halloween, but very modest compared to the crazy American festivities. Each year it was a little more, but this year it's incredible it becomes like in the USA they showed on TV a bakery who made cookies in form of cut fingers with bloody finger nails, cut legs, and everywhere witches who screamed when you touched them. Cobwebs which I hate in the shops, etc etc. In short it becomes like in the USA or even worse ! In Germany it started earlier. Toby thought his grandma was crazy when I called him via Whatsapp with a horrible witch mask on my face. In Holland it didn't exist until last year, now they start too !
    Rick and I liked it because we liked to disguise but it was always private with friends. For me the most "beautiful" graveyard I have ever seen and would fit into Halloween was the Edinburgh graveyard Greyfriars and it's history !! I had never seen an old graveyard like this !

    1. Dressing up is fun if that's what you like, but to go out in public with scary masks is not fun, to me, anyway. It's the perfect setting for murder!

  8. I do so agree with you about both wasteful expense and the tat quality of so much of what is on offer. It seems like such pointless consumerism that produces so very much waste in such a very short time.

    1. What worries me in this 'must have' generation is parents being coerced into spending hard-earned cash on rubbish so their children 'don't miss out'. There's a lot of inequality in our attempt to be equal.

  9. I have very mixed feelings about modern day Halloween too! I absolutely hate how it is being exploited by the commercial industry. Until quite recently, Halloween wasn't a thing here in Belgium at all. We always celebrated All Saints Day, and that was it. Now it has become a - bit of a pointless - tradition ...
    I'm not much of a dressing up person, but I do get it that children like that part of it. But that's what we have Carnival for in February.
    I'm also with you on why we feel the need to manufacture horror when there is so much real terror in the world. I simply don't get it. xxx

    1. I wish it had never taken off in the way it has in UK. I can't see it getting better, quite the reverse. x x x

  10. Agreed! I have problems with the commercialisation of Halloween.


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