Anne here. Shh, I'm typing this furtively in the half-dark, hoping nobody can hear me.
It's Halloween*! Once again it's caught me unprepared — my head's been in 19th century London where it's Spring, not Halloween. And so I'm sharing this brilliant Halloween photo of Harrod's in London, because I'm feeling slightly floored, too. I never get Halloween right.
(* For those of you who are reading this and thinking "What's wrong with the woman, she still has plenty of time to get ready for Halloween!" I would remind you that downunder, we're nearly a day ahead of you. And Halloween is happening now!)
So flocks of small, costumed children have been ringing my doorbell all evening, and since the first horribly disappointed lot, I'm hiding out, not answering the door. Because I have nothing to give them, not a sausage! (Which doesn't mean we give out sausages at Halloween in Australia, it just means my cupboard is bare. Exceptionally so.)
There are two or three slightly softened, possibly furry cough lollies left over from my last cold — do you think they'll do? No, I didn't think so. Which is why I'm sitting here in the twilight, typing as quietly as I can, avoiding disappointing more kids. I never get Halloween right.
Last year I was heading off to the supermarket in my car and saw flocks of little ghosts and witches excitedly roaming the neighborhood demanding sweets with menaces, and I thought, "Aha, this time I'll have something for them," and I bought chocolates and sweets and felt very Halloween prepared.
And I waited. And waited.
And… not a sausage.
All the little ghouls and ghosts and witches had disappeared off the streets and gone in to have their dinner and do their homework and watch TV shows set in places where kids have proper neighbors who know what to do at Halloween.
And there I was with all kinds of goodies of the kind that I don't normally allow in my house because I would eat them.
And yes, you know the rest. I did, gradually, nibble my way through the entire Halloween collection.
Which really was not the plan.
The thing is, we don't really do Halloween in Australia. The first time I ever saw a carved Halloween pumpkin was the year we went to live in Scotland, when I was eight, and it wasn't a pumpkin, it was a carved Hallowe'en turnip. People hung them on their porches and sat them on front steps and they glowed eerily in the dark. I thought they were wonderful, and I tried to make one myself — it was a miserable failure — turnips are quite hard to carve —but we managed to hollow it out and stick a candle inside the poor wonky thing and I was thrilled anyway.
When I was growing up in Australia the big day was 5th November — Bonfire Night, part Guy Fawkes Night, part clean up the rubbish before summer to clear away fuel for bushfires. It was the highlight of my year. I love a good bonfire, and I adore fireworks.
We used to burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes, and though we kids knew it was because he'd tried to blow up parliament, it was a trifle bewildering, considering the way our parents talked about politicians and the government. But he'd clearly botched the job so we thought that was probably why he was being burnt.
Bonfire night was something we prepared for for months, dragging fallen branches up from the bush, and collecting old car tyres and other burnable rubbish. The bonfire was lit as darkness fell — echoes of Samhain — and the blaze that went up thrilled my little heart every time and still does. All the neighbors would be there, and in the dark you'd see other bonfires in the distance. It was such a connection — with the community, and with the past.
(Courtesy of www.hauntedbay.com)
We'd have fireworks — we'd saved up for months to purchase them — sky rockets launched precariously from coke bottles, and various others with intriguing names — Roman candles, Vesuvius, Catherine wheels. Little kids waved sparklers, and older ones let off crackers, from the tiny tom thumbs (or squibs) to "penny bungers" or "thrupenny bungers" that made the loudest bangs. I adore fireworks and the scent of crackers going off takes me back to those nights every time.
We'd stay up as late as we possibly could, and the last thing we'd do before being forced to bed was to tuck dozens of foil-wrapped potatoes into the ashes. Then next morning at crack of dawn, we'd creep out and start raking the warm ashes for the potatoes, and eat them, still hot, with butter and salt. We'd rekindle the fire from the coals and cook sausages for breakfast. Bliss.
We don't seem to have Guy Fawkes night any more in Australia. I think it disappeared because they banned fireworks, probably because there were always injuries, what with huge fires and kids throwing crackers. And maybe because bonfires and fireworks started bushfires — November is the beginning of the dry summer period here and we're always in danger of bushfires. Or maybe it's because I live in the city now. I'm not sure.
However, thanks to watching so many TV shows from the USA, the kids in Australia have started to go Trick or Treating. I don't blame them. What's not to love about dressing up in scary costumes and going around the streets legitimately demanding sweets from strangers?
It's not widespread yet — some years you get no kids knocking on the door, other times (like tonight) you get lots. The thing is, it's probably the first time any of these small polite ghouls and ghosts and witches have gone trick-or-treating, polite because usually their mothers or fathers are with them, hovering discreetly in the background. The parents have never gone trick or treating either. There's no protocol for it here — none of us know any more than we've seen on TV.
And it's risky business, trick or treating in Australia. Apart from people like me for whom Halloween is a non-event on the calendar, and who forget to stock up with chocolate and lollies, or just stare at you blankly, people are just as likely to greet them with a diatribe about Halloween not being our tradition and how you kids today watch too much American TV!
And then the question is, who is scaring whom. LOL
It's all a long way from the old Celtic festival of Samhain where all this started. But traditions are not set in stone and are constantly evolving, and so the old Celtic practices of Samhain gave way to the celebration of All Hallows Eve, Christian festivals and celebrations grafted onto pagan ones, and resulting in a mix of both, and so it goes. These days for most people Halloween is just an excuse for some fun, and I'm all in favor of fun.
One day I'll get it right and bake barmbrack, a kind of fruit bread my grandmother used to bake, in which silver tokens symbolizing various future events would be baked. There's an Irish recipe here. And here's a recipe that doesn't involve yeast. Lots of fun and delicious too. And I love the range of ghoulish halloween food I found on this site. I'm definitely going to try those spider chocolate crackles and those adorable witches hats. If I'd been better prepared, I might even have baked some of these for the little neighborhood ghoulies.
So what are your plans for Halloween? Do you have any special seasonal traditions, or bonfire and firework memories to share? And how do you prepare for trick-or-treaters?