Hallowe’en has become a multi-million pound industry in Britain (1) revolving around amounts of sugar that really put the horror into Fright Night but there is a way of celebrating that puts fun, and Autumn fruit, at the centre, and it’s perfectly fine to have some cake on the side.
Growing up, we celebrated Hallowe’en because we were from an Irish family and had the Celtic fondness for anything fey. No-one else we knew in England paid much attention to All Hallows’ Eve but there was general shock at strange custom called “Trick or Treating” by American TV shows, and “Door-to-Door begging” by my parents.
Now, Hallowe’en is a special season for retailers with spending this year expected to be not far from 500 million pounds on costumes, food, decorations, including pumpkins while Trick or Treating is endemic. It even trends in London on Twitter.
I’m not suggesting that every innovation is bad, believe me shaping a pumpkin is infinitely preferable to the agonising hours we spent carving rock hard swede and turnips to make lanterns.
But otherwise, we had a lot more fun and fewer fillings. We dressed up, told ghost stories and played games gleaned from country people and our Irish grandparents, from books steeped in British tradition such as Alison Utley’s Sam Pig stories to Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School and the Supernatural girls’ comic Misty which mixed folklore with modern horror writing.
When I had children of my own, Hallowe’en became part of our family life with a party every year for fun and tradition. Once they hit 5 or 6, Trick or Treating became a thing here and for me this was just a big fat no.
So, instead we hosted huge gangs of children and taught them the traditional games we had played. The girls were much more interested in the divination games than the boys for some reason but they can be played by either with adequate adult supervision:
Apple Bobbing – Fill a large bowl (washing up bowl if you must but a preserving pan looks more like a cauldron) with water. Float some apples in it. Guests put their hands behind their backs and try to catch apples with their teeth. (Have towels and cloths handy)
Apple Strings: Core the apples (a corer makes this easy, nightmare otherwise) thread them on string and hang up. Guests keep arms behind their backs and try to catch the apples with their teeth.
Flour Cake : Make a mound of flour with a pudding basin (a bit like a sandcastle), balance a jelly baby on the top (it was a coin in my day but Health&Safety…), take turns to cut slices off the cake, whoever makes the sweet fall has to pick it up with his or her mouth. This is quite messy and extra funny if damp from apple bobbing.
Mummy Race: New one on me but fun and engagingly bonkers. Put players in twos with a roll of lavatory paper per pair. When the whistle blows one player wraps the other in paper to look like a Mummy. When fully wrapped the Mummy runs a measured course racing the other Mummys.
1 Don’t take these seriously – games, remember!
2 The ones involving candles are only suitable with constant adult supervision and for small groups of older children who are sensibly dressed with no flapping cloaks or costumes of nylon.
3 Bought Hallowe’en costumes are terrifyingly flammable so don’t even think about allowing anyone near a flame in one!!
Love and Friendship
Peel an apple in a single piece and throw the peel over your shoulder to find the initial of your true love
Brush your hair by candle light in front of a mirror and the face of your future love will be reflected in it (you can enliven this by holding up teddy bears, Barbie, Action man, pictures of pop stars so their reflection shows)
Take turns to float 2 candles in bowl of water, name 1 for you, 1 for a friend, push them gently to see how the friendship will fare. Do they stay together or pull apart? Does a flame go out or a candle sink? If so that is the person who will end the friendship.
Victorian Halloween love divination: 3 bowls one with clean water, one with dirty and a third empty. Blindfold someone and get them to choose: clean water dish-marry well; dirty water-a bad marriage; empty dish-stay single
NOTES: 1 Steve Richardson, UK director at ShopperTrak, said Hallowee’en was now the third largest retail event after Christmas and Easter in terms of sales and, this year, the trend continues with an expected increase in shopper traffic of 7% on the daily average on 31 October.