Hallowe’en, how I love thee. Especially here in South Yorks, where the voices of protest about this “American holiday” are slowly dying out, like leaves on an autumnal (1) tree.
I’m not sure when we started offering sweets to the trick or treaters, but it must be over 20 years ago. My husband has met people on our street – adults, now – who have suddenly said to him: “We used to go to your house at Hallowe’en! It scared us, but we went anyway.”
Of course, I can hear him say. That’s what it’s all about.
Personally, I believe that customs such as carving jack o’lanterns and dressing up were taken from the British Isles to the States by Irish immigrants. It took over a century for them to be re-imported back to Britain via American telly, films, and of course merchandising.
I’m as likely to purchase a bit of seasonal cheap tack as the next person: probably more so when it comes to Hallowe’en. Indeed, it was a highlight of my inevitable shopping trips to hit the dollar stores, and see what novelty items I could take back to Britain.
I still remember the time a lad said “Nice eyes!”, as he deposited his sweeties in his swag bag. I knew of course that he meant the “light up eyes” which our friends Mark and Sue gave us, and which we searched the shops to find whilst we were in Michigan. So you can imagine my delight this autumn, when I was visiting one of our local pound shops, and encountered a pair of familiar, spooky eyes.
Inevitably, there’s a part of me that longs for childhood Hallowe’ens. Back then, whilst there were plenty of jointed, cardboard witches and scarecrows in Kresges and the other dime stores, as well as candy pumpkins, and candy corn (2), most Hallowe’en decorations were home made. Specifically, Dad-made.
Sure, if your costume wasn’t store-bought, odds were it was Mom-made. But it was the fathers of my neighbourhood and childhood who stuffed and dressed the scarecrows, ghosts, and witches which sat in our front yards, and on our front porches. It was Dad who helped you select and carve your pumpkin(s), who understood a child’s messy delight in scooping out the oogily, stringy bits.
The smell of scorching pumpkin lids! There are few things more heart-tugging than smell. Stop and think for a moment, those of you who have loved and lost beloved Nans or Grans, of your grandmother’s favourite perfume, or bath salts.
Can you smell her? Can you see her? Is she sewing, like my grandmother? Or kissing you on both cheeks, like my other grandmother?
Which brings me to the other side of Hallowe’en – the one of “the beloved dead”.
My Protestant Past is too far back for me to remember which liturgy used to contain the words “the quick and the dead”. I still recall my mother’s disappointment when that delightful phrase was replaced by the more prosaic “living and the dead”.
Mom joined the dead nearly five years ago. Living, her wit was quick indeed, spiced like gingerbread by the sharp tongue she inherited from her mother.
Perhaps you celebrate Samhain. Maybe you attend church on All Souls. Or maybe you’re an agnostic or atheist with a bit of a sweet tooth, who’s looking forward to dressing up like Spiderman.
We all have our beloved quick. We all have our Beloved Dead.
I’ll be lighting a candle for you, Mom. I hope you understand. And a bit of incense for you, Mosu, and you, Mama Buna.
And I will spend Hallow’en with you, oh Best Beloved. We are both amongst the quick.
And I am glad.
(1) Note, “autumnal”. Not “autumnable”, which I understand is making the rounds.
(2) Come on, England: you’ve discovered Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Bars. Where’s my candy corn?