Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night

It’s that strange time of the year again. Time to eat sweets, complain about kids asking for sweets off strangers, blow up money and frighten pets.

Halloween is a foreign celebration. It is easy to brand it as American commercialism, but the concept of All Hallows Eve (the night before All Hallows Day) is European and much older. In ancient Celtic times they celebrated Samhain then, which meant the end of Summer.

Trick or Treating. Even the idea of dressing up in costumes and asking for food or coins is based on the late medieval practice of souling. Poor people would go from house to house on Hallowmas and receive food in return for prayers for the dead. Although it originated in the UK, it can be found in literature as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions it in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” 

The concept of putting candles in pumpkins (jack o’lanterns) comes from Britain as well, except they use turnips. The lantern represents a soul lost in purgatory. Robbie Burns wrote a poem called Halloween in 1785 and the first reports of ‘guising’ (dressing up in disguises and visiting homes in the neighbourhood) wasn’t recorded in America until 1911.

So much for the misconceptions. I don’t have a problem with Halloween. I would never take kids trick or treating myself, but if someone knocks on the door tonight they will get a handful of soft jubes, not a lecture. We don’t know how many, or even if any, will come. In Pakuranga we got very few because most of the neighbourhood was Asian and it wasn’t in their culture. If we don’t get any at all there will be a surfeit of soft jubes in the household, no bad thing. A win-win.

I am far more exercised by Guy Fawkes night. I can see the pleasure to be had in gathering around a communal bonfire and watching a public display of fireworks. I can even understand a historic desire to blow up parliament. What I object to is the public sale of dangerous weapons for days before the event and people buying said weapons, hoarding them and then letting them off for nights on end. It terrifies pets and makes the air reek with cordite.

If you want to see fireworks, go to a public display. DON’T sell them to the general public who have no other experience with handling explosives. So you think they can do no harm? I remember seeing a girl in Middlemore hospital who’d been put in a dog kennel with some crackers and a sky rocket. She was badly burned all over. How many fires are started? How many sky rockets land in scrub, bush or on houses? Would you give the general public machine guns and tell them to celebrate by firing them into the air? No….

So that is my soapbox for today. I am off to steal a jube or three before all the kids arrive. I know several people who were born on Halloween, they are all perfectly lovely and un-witch like. Happy birthday to you all. 





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