Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I love Halloween

A ghost taps its ethereal hand on your window, a witch's fingernails scratch at your front door. Darkness has fallen and you that pray the light from your Jack O‘Lantern will scare away the evil spirits on this most unholy of nights the 31 of October, Halloween.

I have loved Halloween since I was a small child. TV adaptations of MR James ghost stories and anything to do with the paranormal were required viewing in my home. These were made all the more frightening as my grandmother got exceeding deaf, necessitating the TV volume to be always turned up to high.

I always enjoyed dressing up at Halloween and one of my earliest memories was crashing head-first into my friend Jodey while dressed up as a ghost. Our  local church used to hold Halloween parties and one lady always used to appear as a witch with her face painted green and strangely sporting a pair rubber gloves which made her seem all the more sinister. Later these celebrations were done away with as Halloween began to be seen as encouraging the occult so they changed to 'Hallelujah' parties - but it was never the same. One of the best parties I went to was at a friends house in the country. It was old and creepy and spread out over several floors so seemed even more exotic after my ordinary bungalow. My friend's uncle made us creep up and down the stairs by candlelight as he told ghost stories, which no doubt started my love of investigations in haunted houses.

 The only part of Halloween I felt hard done by was the purchase of a Halloween Lantern. Every year I begged my mum to buy a proper pumpkin and every year I ended up with a Halloween swede. It's only now since reading about the traditions of Halloween that I learnt that a swede was really much more authentic. The tradition of the  the Jack O' Lantern came from Ireland and was usually carved from a turnip. Halloween was part of the pagan tradition that celebrated the 1st of November - Samhain, the day of the dead. The Celts believed that Samhain marked the end of one year and the beginning of another and on the eve of Samhain the dead would rise up and mingle with the living. People would go from door to door collecting wood for sacred bonfires, food for Samhain feasting or offerings for the spirits. Often people would dress up in costume to prevent spirits from recognising them and to trick the ghosts into thinking they were one of their own.

Although Halloween is celebrated widely in the UK it is now America where the most enthusiasm for Halloween currently resides. The tradition was brought over by Irish Immigrants at the time of the potato famine and now Halloween is the country's second largest commercial holiday. In 2002 I went over to America in late October and it was a revelation. We visited fields full of Halloween pumpkins and Halloween supermarkets selling tombstones, and skeletons and all manner of macabre gifts. The highlight was a trip to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. This is an area usually known for its hippies, but that night it was awash with people in fancy dress. My friends and I were in the usual witches and wizards garb but there was a whole mix of costumes including many characters from Star Wars. Best of all my friend was living in an amazingly spooky looking wooden house that could have graced any episode of 'A Haunting' and could scare the life out of you just by looking too closely at its sinister architecture. Fabulous.

As for this Halloween I will be sitting at home by candlelight, curled up with my cat (unfortunately not black) and watching a good horror film. I shall be eating a selection of cupcakes decorated with various ghosts and witches. and some crisps shaped as ghosts My pumpkin will be lit  and placed in the window and I shall round it all off with a reading of MR James’ 'Lost Hearts.' Happy Halloween!

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