Monday, October 31, 2011


I think - do correct me if I'm wrong - that English people didn't really use to celebrate Hallowe'en much. We did celebrate it in Scotland when I was little, but we didn't do the trick or treat thing that seems to be coming in from America. We did "guising" - the word's from "disguising" and nothing to do with Guy Fawkes' Day, a completely different event. Children dressed up and went to their immediate neighbours' houses and sang songs or recited poems, and were given a reward of a small amount of money, or more often just apples and nuts. The dressing up wasn't necessarily ghost- or witch- or skeleton-related, but could be just anything out of the dressing-up box, though the songs and poems tended to be witch-related. Certainly no costumes were ever bought. And this was just the same when our children were little.

Please don't think that I have anything against America and its traditions, but I am slightly sad that Hallowe'en here seems to have become a bit Americanised, presumably through the influence of films and tv. Not that I've ever heard of anyone actually doing the "trick" bit here. But the media seems to refer to "trick or treating" as if it were a British tradition, which it never was.

Another thing we used to do at Hallowe'en was to make turnip lanterns, not pumpkin ones. I tell you, it was very energetic work, hollowing out a hard turnip - it used to be the father's job because only he had enough muscle power to manage it. You never saw pumpkins in our shops in those days. I would admit that pumpkins are much easier, though a tiny bit of me thinks it's a bit feeble to do it the easy way... The other disadvantage of turnip lanterns was that they smelt revolting if they got a bit singed, as they tended to do.

At Hallowe'en parties in my childhood, we used to "dook" (duck) for apples - I wonder if modern children do this? My brother and I used to do this sometimes at my grandparents' house and sometimes at ours. There was a zinc bath that got filled with water, and apples from our or my grandparents' apple trees - none of this buying-them-at-the-supermarket nonsense - and with nuts, which we never had at any other time of year except Christmas. Then the apples and nuts were whooshed round and you had to kneel down and use your mouth to extract an apple or a nut or two when it was your turn. We did this at Guides as well, and the more obstreperous Guides would sometimes shove your face under the water as you struggled to bite into an apple. We also had a jammy or treacley piece (sandwich or scone) on a string and you had to try to get a bite, again without using your hands.

Innocent fun. I feel slightly uneasy when I see lots of Hallowe'en costumes and decorations in the supermarket and I never did like skeletons and ghoulish things. But there we are. Times change.

Happy Hallowe'en.


  1. We never did anything as children or when our daughter was very small, but after we moved to Cardiff in 1984, we were disturbed to find quite large groups of older children and teenagers coming round basically asking for money. One year we weren't at home on Halloween and came back to find the front of the house covered in eggs and flour. Daughter had a similar exerience in Birmingham about 10 years ago when her car was covered in flour and dirt because the house lights were on but they were all out.
    We don't get anyone here, but the local police have sent round polite cartoon notices to put in the window to 'opt out' which some elderly neighbours have been very glad of. I've nothing against celebrating with Halloween parties and dressing up, but knocking on doors univited in the dark doesn't seem such a good idea these days.

  2. I don't remember Hallowe'en at all from when I was a child, and I am certain that my father would NEVER have allowed me to go knocking on doors, even asking for sweets. It's only in the last 10 years or so that it seems to have become the 'thing' in my part of west Wales. Mind you, we do tend to be a bit behind the times (thankfully!).

  3. It's interesting to read of the older traditions in your part of the world. Turnips! Who knew?

    I am American, and I've never liked the ghoulish or scary parts of Halloween. I don't decorate with skeletons or hatchets (but one of my neighbors does--shudder). Most people don't do the tricking thing either. Trick or treat is mostly young children (under the age of 13) going out with their parents to collect candy (the parents don't collect, just the children). We might get a few groups of teens at the door, but usually they are polite. Some teens may use the holiday as an excuse to do some property damage, but it's really not that common, and often is directed towards the homes of their peers, not random individuals. Not that that excuses it, but I don't want you to have the impression that everyone is running around over here egging each other!

  4. We have always "trick or treated" with our girls, with a few changes from the "traditions" around here. We always made the girls' costumes. Second, we had them pick three pieces out that they wanted to keep, they traded the rest in for a new book at the bookstore and the rest went off with Dad to work! We don't decorate the outdoors, or anything, but we do enjoy the community as we stand out and visit with our neighbors before the weather becomes too unbearable to! :) It's a nice sense of knowing your neighbor, seeing the kids out and how much they have grown, etc. I don't like the gory costumes, either, but I do enjoy the wee little ones! :)

  5. I grew up with both, sort of. Growing up in Edinburgh, I dooked for apples, went guising and had to perform a "turn" to earn my sweeties. I remember when the news advised us to refuse apples or satsumas because they might be poisoned or drugged (urgh). some years we went door-to-door, some years it was a neighborhood party with a bunch of roughly contemporary children.

    However, having an american Mum I was aware of the Trick/Treat aspect. We almost never carved a neep (I think every now and then my Dad would feel brave and attempt one), we got pumpkins, usually at least one big and one small, and roasted the seeds while we carved the faces. I also greatly looked forward to seeing photos of the costumes of my younger cousins in California.

    I miss the recital part of halloween. I suppose I think children should earn their treats! It's too late this year, but I think next year I will volunteer to arrange some traditional Scottish things like dooking for the kids at my UU fellowship.

  6. I am actually gently encouraged by this year's guisers - lots more home-assembled costumes, more "turns", and no hulking teenagers with no costume other than a nasty mask (which I always find a bit intimidating).

    And they all said thank you.

    I have carved a turnip before now, but not this year.

  7. Personally, I detest Hallowe'en, especially the commercialisation of recent years. But in my previous home, the kids in our street made such an effort and had such enjoyment with their dressing up and make up that it was infectiously good fun. Parents walked round the doors with them, and they only called on neighbours they knew.

    Here in my quiet more village-y setting, there were some lit pumpkin lanterns at people's doors, and that was pretty much it! Suits me fine.....

  8. I like Halloween, the decorating, home-made costumes etc. Each year there are fewer and fewer Trick-or-Treaters as more parents opt for church harvest events instead. I only had 2 come last night, now who's going to eat the leftover candy?

  9. We were talking about this with our Dutch friend today, and how we used to do bonfire night in England much more than Halloween, and she said in Holland they celebrated St Martins night, ad went from house to house with lanterns singing special songs. I was quite confident that neither Halloween nor guy Fawkes ever involved any singing, but didn't know about your 'guising' ion Scotland.

    I seem to think that the original Jack O'Lanterns Irish folk story involved a turnip, and that pumpkins were a handy alternative for the American settlers. But I imagine there could be something much more earthy and a bit mysterious about a turnip lantern, and satisfying about the way it would fit into your hand.

    Attempts to popularise and commercialise Halloween here in France largely failed, which no one is sorry about, but the going about dressed up has been taken up in a modest way by groups of youngsters, which is quite nice to see. I miss having a festival at this time of year other than the dreary traipse to the cemetery bearing chrysanthemums on November 1st.

    How interesting that there have been so many different customs but with similar elements in common. Obviously it all comes from Samhain, and even older festivals of harvest and preparation for winter and against the encroaching darkness.

    A little bit of misrule and being a bit scared is OK, but extortion and vandalism isn't.

  10. A fascinating array of comments here. Today I was talking about Halloween to an American-born friend who has lived here in Australia for many years. She said she remembers coming here 40 years ago when nobody here celebrated Halloween at all, compared to nowadays when it is all over the shops. I said it is all to do with marketing; some company thinks they can make money, and the rest line up for their share.

  11. The turnips in our grocery store are so small, you wouldn't be able to fit a candle in them even if you could hollow them out. Can't imagine trying to carve one!! Thanks for your memories - very cool!