Lift your spirits by digging up traditions
Mix a little imagination with a sprinkle of childhood memories and a dash of enthusiasm for a spooky Halloween for all the family, writes SHEILA WAYMAN
A BLOODIED, severed leg dangles from one window of the neighbour’s house, an arm from another; artistic cobwebs drape the front garden, where a rat freezes beside a tombstone. These neighbours are new to the road and are certainly upping the ante for the rest of us.
Halloween used to be one night, now it’s a season. We may not have money to burn in fireworks during the build-up any more but it’s still a great excuse for a party. It is, after all, a tradition we can rightfully claim as our own.
Halloween, the night before All Hallows’ Day, has its roots in the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, marking the start of winter. It was brought to the US by Irish and Scottish emigrants, where it grew into the more commercial, inflated version that we embrace today.
Who would want to carve miserable turnips now that we’ve got plump pumpkins? And witches and ghosts look positively quaint nowadays beside the zombies and axe murderers. (I draw the line at any child of mine going around with a “dagger” embedded in his skull – “you’re no fun, Mum”).
But has the focus on that bewitching combination of commercial horror and candy gone too far? Is there still a place for rummaging through the dress-up box at home rather than selecting a costume off the shop rail? For eating barm brack and colcannon and playing games such as apple-bobbing and apple snap?
Earlier this month, Early Childhood Ireland encouraged parents to resurrect the traditional family games and rituals, which require time rather than money.
Its chief executive officer, Irene Gunning, thinks a lot of families broke from the old rituals as commercialisation took over.
“Commercial aspects have gone to ridiculous extremes with all the special sweets in the shops since September.” She likes the idea of “junk couture” – creating costumes with whatever is at hand, but acknowledges that it is hard to compete with the lure of ready-made costumes.
Halloween is an ancient festival rooted in our mono-culture, she points out, and some people now think it’s distasteful and ghoulish to have children revelling in the night of the dead.
But Gunning is no killjoy and sees most of it as harmless fun. “I don’t believe in frightening small children but children like to be in that state of anticipation of being frightened” – they know they will be all right in the end.
“It is only when we are little that we split off the good from the bad – that is how, when we are small, that we relate to the world, that bad and good don’t exist together,” she says.
“The trouble for many people around Halloween is that we know that they exist together. It is not ‘out there’, it is ‘within’.”
That, she adds, is the real sinister side but it’s a very adult concept.
The manager of the Beaumont Community Pre-school in north Dublin, Bernie Sheridan, has been celebrating Halloween with her small charges for 20 years and has seen it become much more commercial during that time.
She would like to see it pared back, leaving children to use their imagination more than anything else.
Talking ahead of the pre-school’s Halloween party last week, she said: “Most of the outfits will be bought which is a shame.
“You will get one or two parents who will make up ones but the majority will be bought.”
Sheridan believes as long as people keep the celebrations age-appropriate, small children love Halloween. But she warns about masks, which the 80 children at the pre-school, ranging in age from two years and nine months to five years, are not allowed to wear at the party.
“In general young children just find masks hard to handle – either the claustrophobic thing on their face, or scary.” The staff dress up too for the party but don’t overdo it.
“Sometimes we find the children don’t like us dressing up, it can kind of upset them.
“We are their security coming in and you can’t change it too much – we just put on funny ear-rings or a hairband with bobbins.