Chocolate, jack-o-lanterns, and exotic food creations help to make Hallowe’en an exciting visual and gastronomic experience.
Hallowe’en (the eve of All Saints Day) is not the only holiday celebrated on October 31/November 1. Before the second or third century A.D., the ancient Celts celebrated Samhain (New Years) on November 1. Many of our most treasured Hallowe’en practices – including ghosts, witches, pumpkins, and bobbing for apples – come from Ireland’s Celtic past.
“The most sacred of Celtic holidays, the Celtic New Year, is the day when the great divide between the two worlds is broken and ghosts are allowed to walk,” says James W. Flannery, Ph.D., an expert on Anglo-Irish literature who directs the William Butler Yeats Foundation at Emory University in Atlanta. A late 19th-century Irish folklorist, playwright, and poet, Yeats won the 1923 Nobel Prize for literature. For a wee bit of fun, read some of Yeats’ collected stories in Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland (© Budget Books, 1998).
“This fall harvest holiday signified the end of the summer and the beginning of the cold, dark, long Irish winter,” says Flannery. “Carved, hollowed-out large turnips were used like modern pumpkins to represent the pickled heads of captive noble opponents brought out on Samhain eve to ward off evil ghosts.
“Young men went out on the eve of Samhain to hunt for a caileach (old crone) who would test them. If the young man passed her test she could be transformed into a speirbahn (a beautiful and radiant young woman), and be the young man’s true love. The caileach were the origin of our Hallowe’en witches.
“Apples were a fertility symbol. On Samhain eve, young girls put a stocking full of apples under their pillow, to induce dreams of their future partner. In most households, young children were given treats of apples and nuts.”
In the swim
Changing Hallowe’en observations allow for the repetition of old favorites with a twist, and the implementation of new ideas.
Like their Celtic teenage male ancestors, who bobbed for apples in low tubs with their hands tied behind them, our modern teens enjoy bobbing for apples in a swimming pool. At one Hallowe’en party, given for my children’s teenage friends, everyone came prepared to swim. They were warned that one party activity would include getting very wet. We dumped a bag of apples in the shallow end of the pool and told the apple-stalkers to grab the fruit without using their hands, from the pool rim or by jumping into the pool. We were lucky. They left few chunks of apple in the pool, so the cleanup was easy. Except in the southern sunbelt, where swimming-pool water still is tolerable in late October, this activity should be limited to small plastic pools and metal tubs set up in places not easily damaged by spilled water.
Feel the corpse
My children, now adults, ask how to build the ghastly touchy-feely box I made when they were in pre-school to scare their classmates and neighborhood friends. The mystery box works well with children of all ages.
I covered a copier-paper box with white shelf paper, decorated it with Hallowe’en art work, and cut holes lined with fabric cuffs along the sides of the box. The cuffs allowed easy access to the interior of the box, but prevented anyone from peeking to see what was inside. The original idea for my “Feel the Corpse” recipe isAnn McGovern’s Squeals & Squiggles & Ghostly Giggles (© Scholastic Magazines, 1973).
Tell your friends they are going to be “in touch ” with a corpse! But don’t tell them the grisly parts are really:
• Broken pretzel pieces, small but not too tiny — for teeth.
• Two freshly peeled small onions or grapes — for eyes.
• Two dried apricots — for ears.
• Used long pieces of chalk with one rounded end — for fingers.
• Mop head or a cheap wig that can safely be washed or ruined -for hair.
• Pork and beans — for the inside of the body.
• Small carrot — nose.
• Wet natural sponge for brains.
• Roll of paper towels to mop up blood.
NOTE: When the game is over, the sauce from the pork and beans will cover everything inside the box, and will be on everyone’s hands.
Remove the lid from the box. Put the body parts in eight small, hard-to-tip shallow paper or plastic bowls, and place these bowls in the box. Replace the box lid. Pre-set the box in the party area. Lower the lights, and encourage participants to put their hands into the box long enough to feel one item, guess what part of the body they felt, and share how the mysterious substance felt. Keep paper towels handy to clean and dry wet fingers.
In The Hallowe’en Book, Jane Bull (© Darling Kindersley, 2000) offers a sightly different version of Feel the Corpse called “Funny Feelings.” Bull says in her book that “only the bravest of guests should get involved with this game! The idea is for each person to plunge their hands into boxes of nasty things that they can’t see. Yuck! Cut a hole in a box, big enough to fit a hand through, and place a plate or bowl inside containing something yucky.” She recommends wet spagehetti as worms or a peeled grape as an eyeball.
Spiders and bones
Spiders and bones are essential participants in Hallowe’en. Marie-Laure Mantoux and Frédérique Crestin-Billet show readers how to make spiders and bones in Hallowe’en imaginative holiday ideas (© Barrons’s, 2000). Published first in French, this book has helped to introduce the French to the American holiday of Hallowe’en. In true Gallic fashion, they have improved upon an American pop-culture holiday.
Frightening fat spiders
For one spider:
• Steel wool pad
• Scrap paper
• Black spray paint
• Two transparent beads
• Quick-drying spray glue
• Two black pipe cleaners
Use the sissors to cut the steel wool pad in two. Place one of the halves on a sheet of scrap paper and spray it with black paint. Turn the pad over and paint the other side. Cover the pad completely. Let it dry.
Put a drop of glue on the transparent beads and place them where you want the spider’s eyes to be. Cut each pipe cleaner into three equal legs. Slip each leg into the black steel-wool pad to create a spider with hairy legs.
NOTE: The above instructions give you a six-legged spider. My biologically oriented husband points out that spiders are arachnids, which have eight legs. If this “bugs” you, make eight-legged spiders.
• White self-hardening clay
• Very fine sandpaper
Roll out a piece of clay 2 1/2 inches (7 cm) long. Mold a small piece of clay into two balls to make the ends of the bones. Press the center of each ball to create the bumps at the ends of bones and attach these pieces to the bone.
Allow the bone to dry. Smooth the surface with sandpaper.
NOTE: Play with the clay and try to make larger bones.
NOTE: Bones also can be used for Mexican días de los muertos celebrations.