2020 has already had more than its fair share of unprecedented events. This Halloween will be a first for many. No trick-or-treating. No fancy dress parties. No gathering around the bonfire. So, while it’s going to have to be a stay-at-home Halloween this year, what things can we do to safely celebrate one of our oldest festivals?
A little bit of history
Halloween belongs to us! Yes, we started all this. The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain was celebrated first here in Ireland. The end of October was seen as a liminal period – an in-between time – where the veil between this world and the netherworld was at its thinnest. Dead ancestors were likely to be hanging about more than usual and various fairies and spooks could be more easily communicated with at this time of year.
Masks or ‘false-faces’ were worn and people wore different clothes in order to disguise themselves in case any beasties from the other side came looking for souls to steal.
It was also a harvest festival. Hence all that apple, nut and dried-fruit eating. In an effort to take over the festival and get people away from their pagan shenanigans, the Catholic Church, in the 8th century, designated November 1st as All Souls Day or All Hallows Day. The day before, being Samhain, then became Hallowe’en or All Hallows Eve. All Souls Day was a pretty rubbish replacement for Samhain. So, the Irish and other Celtic people across Europe kept their bonfire and mask-wearing traditions going.
Hallowe’en really took off as a festival when Irish people brought it to America. Trick or treating became a favourite Halloween tradition for children and a raft of Halloween centred stories and films cemented the spooky holiday’s place as an annual festival.
Traditions We Can Keep
- Make a barmbrack. This is another pure Irish Halloween tradition. The name comes from the Irish words bairín (loaf) breac (speckled). It’s bread with dried fruit in it, basically. Traditionally the Halloween brack has various items mixed in. A ring for marriage or luck in love, coins for financial luck, a stick denoting an unhappy marriage, a pea, signifying that the person who gets it won’t marry that year. Eat it warm with a heap of lovely butter and a cuppa for all the Halloween feels.
- Dress up anyway. Get your old white sheets out, cut out a couple of eye-holes and Bob’s-yer-uncle, you’re a ghost. And who could forget the 20th century Halloween tradition of cutting arm and head-holes in a black refuse sack? Why not make masks this year? Use the cornflakes box and markers or paints and a bit of wool to hold it in place. If you’re feeling really Covid-crafty, you could go the whole hog and do papier-maché. It’s messy though. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- Bobbing for coins or apples is always a good one but in Covid times, unless you’re already regularly sharing bodily fluids with the people in your house, this mightn’t be a good time to be dunking multiple heads in the same basin.
- Swinging apples. This is my personal favourite (although dentists aren’t big fans) But see bobbing for coins above. Maybe use separate apples.
- Toffee apples. Yum!
- Eat loads of sweets. Again, your dentist won’t thank you but a sugar coma might help ease the boredom.
- Watch scary films. There are loads to choose from.
- Take the kids around your area and give them a treat for each house that’s Halloween decorated. Kids, I find, really favour this one. Depending on how many kids you have and how wide you cast your net, this could be real money-saver this year. The descent of the costumed hordes at Halloween can cost a fortune in mini-Smarties and Tayto.
- Blast Carmina Burana: O Fortuna – The Omen music – outside your house. The neighbours will love it.
- Halloween coincides with the full moon this year. It’s also a Blue Moon. Even more unusual. If the sea’s within your 5K limit, why not go for a full moon swim? Or cast a spell under the moonlight. Write things you want out of your life – Covid, lockdowns, money worries. Burn the pieces of paper in a metal bowl under the full moon’s light and then bury the ashes. It probably won’t make a jot of difference but it can’t hurt, right?
- Carve turnips. Far scarier than pumpkins and much more traditionally Irish.