A lot of my fellow country men and women get a bit sniffy about Halloween, saying that it’s an American holiday, imported into Britain. It isn’t a holiday we’ve ever celebrated.
I beg to differ.
Ah, but we never celebrated Halloween after that. Oh yes we did.
Back in the 50s and 60s, when I was still a child, I can remember going to Halloween parties. OK, there was none of the dressing up that there is today. Money was tight, so there was nothing to be spared for costumes. There were plenty of games played, though. Most of them seemed to involve apples, if I recall correctly. Well, apples are plentiful in October, which makes them cheap.
First off was eating an apple suspended on a length of string. This was traditionally played with two children sitting or standing opposite each other, one boy, one girl, hands held behind the back so they couldn’t be used. The game was to see who could eat most of the apple. Of course the apple swung around and slipped out of the way of small children’s mouths making it inevitable that, at some point, the two mouths would meet in an apple juice tasting kiss.
Interestingly, if the party was being given by a church group, the two contestants would be of the same sex. There would be none of that boys kissing girls stuff at church of parties, oh no. So you would end up with boys kissing boys and girls kissing girls. I wonder if anyone ever saw the irony in that?
A variation on this was to put bury the apples in a bowl of flour. This time the flour would shoot up the nose and down the throat, threatening to choke the child. Even more hilarious.
I always wondered if these games were some ploy to reduce the nation’s population of children, especially in larger families.
Similar in nature was the balloon game, where a balloon was held between the knees and passed down the line, once again without the use of hands. What was it with this era where they had such a big thing against using the hands, but were quite happy for people to make contact with almost every other body part?
These games couldn’t be played today, of course. Too much risk of being accused of sexual harassment. We lived in far more innocent times, where a boy could ‘accidently’ kiss another boy on the pretext of trying to eat an apple.
Pumpkins are now plentiful, so there’s lots of pumpkin soup and pie on the menu these days, but at least we’ve got rid of the horrible smell of burning swede.
This always amuses me. For years we lecture our children, telling them not to talk to strangers and not to take sweets from them. Then, one night each year, we let them go from door to door harassing strangers into giving them sweets.
And then we wonder why our children grow up so confused.
Despite some of my childhood Halloween parties being hosted by church groups, the church in Britain really didn’t hold with the celebration. It was far too pagan for their liking. Instead, they encouraged a different celebration, held a week later. This is “Bonfire Night”.
The plot was discovered in the nick of time and the perpetrators were hunted down and executed. Although he wasn’t the originator of the plot, that was Robert Catesby, Guy (or Guido) Fawkes was the explosives expert, so it is his death that is commemorated.
The plotters were all hung, drawn and quartered; a grizzly death that I’m not going to describe, but you can read about it here if you are that curious.
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to re-create hanging, drawing and quartering in the back garden, so instead the early celebrants decided to revert to the more traditional way of disposing of Catholic plotters and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes at the stake. This was a popular pastime during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but its most famous victim was French teenager Joan Of Arc, who was burnt to death as a heretic by the English, in 1431.
Later, fireworks were added to the burning of the effigy of Guy Fawkes, to make the event even more festive. And we still hold this ceremony every year on 5th November, in back gardens and open spaces up and down the country.
In the town of Lewes, East Sussex, a comical twist is added by making the effigy that of a current politician. But this isn’t a hate crime, it’s just a bit of a laugh.
So, on no account must good Christian folk celebrate a pagan festival, but by all means commemorate the times when we burnt people at the stake for holding religious beliefs that were different from those of the general population. Guy Fawkes masks and fireworks are available in most shops to help things go with a bang.
However you are spending Halloween do enjoy yourself, and remember children, never take sweets from strangers. Instead, offer to play the orange game or the balloon game with them. Such fun.