Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I'm writing this midway between Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, so I figured I should probably blog about one or the other. I picked both.

My husband chooses not to celebrate Halloween. For a while I had assumed that was for the same reason Evangelical Christians don't celebrate it - because it is associated with the occult and forces of evil. However, I found out recently that the real reason is because he thought it isn't a British tradition. Roderic is very patriotic - it's one of the things I love about him.

I have mentioned here before that we didn't mark Halloween at all when I was growing up. We were aware of it and were a little scared that it was supposed to be the night when the ghosts roamed the earth, but our real celebration was Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November and all our family activities and traditions were all centred around that. The observance of Halloween in our part of Britain only started about ten years ago. I remember taking my eldest daughter (now 15) trick-or-treating for the first time, and having to explain to some of the neighbours that they were supposed to give her a treat, not the other way around.

However, yesterday I learned that observing Halloween by putting candles inside hollowed-out root vegetables and taking children door-to-door asking for treats is a British Isles tradition after all, having originated with the Celts in Ireland and Scotland. Even the name "Halloween" is a Scottish corruption of "All Hallows Ev'n" and for centuries there it has been traditional to carve neeps (turnips), and for children to go "guising" (dressing in disguise and asking for coins) and/or "souling"; visiting homes asking for gifts of fruit in return for prayers for the souls of the dead. It seems that Scottish and Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, and American TV brought it all the way back to England where it is doing its best to oust Guy Fawkes night as the big festival of the Autumn.

We usually assume that traditions are deeply rooted in history, but in fact it only takes a few short years, or a generation, to start a tradition. Roderic pointed out to me that fish and chips is the British traditional national dish, but potatoes were only introduced to these islands in the sixteenth century. So that tradition is less than 500 years old. And already here, with Halloween still relatively new and unpopular, it seems that homes which are happy to entertain trick-or-treaters are displaying a lighted pumpkin outside, and somehow we all know not to knock on those that don't. I don't remember that from last year. The tradition is already developing.

Sadly, I haven't seen anyone asking for "A penny for the Guy" for years.

Our family has its own traditions. We have fast food every Monday night as part of Family Home Evening. We put up the Christmas tree on the first Sunday in December. We celebrate birthdays by decorating the dining room overnight and putting all the presents on the table. Little things, but like other traditions they can really help make us feel part of something special. A tradition doesn't need to be old to be important, or enjoyable, it just has to be something which we associate with the remembrance of something bigger.

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