Monday, October 31, 2005


The eve of the Feast of All Saints, early evening, and I hear fireworks going off outside. I remember standing in the back garden, in darkness, as a small child with the fiery magic of a sparkler held before me, watching as elfin friends’ faces, lit up with different-coloured fire, seemed to zoom disembodied through the air.

I never once got burned at Hallowe’en, and we never had fireworks — those have always been associated with Christmas for me — but I do remember the pumpkin — or, in our case, the turnip — hung up on the beam outside, so wicked on the night and so corpselike the next day, wizening gradually until it started to smell of decay and old candles and had to be thrown out. I remember not liking toffee apples, but loving putting our pennies, covered in candle-drippings, into a bowl of boiling water after we got back from trick-or-treat.

From Wikipedia:

Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. In Puicíní (pronounced “pooch-eeny”), a game played in Ireland, a blindfolded person is seated in front of a table on which several saucers are placed. The saucers are shuffled and the seated person then chooses one by touch. The contents of the saucer determine the person's life for the following year. A saucer containing earth means someone known to the player will die during the next year, a saucer containing water foretells travel, a coin means new wealth, a bean means poverty, etc. In 19th-century Ireland, young women placed slugs in saucers sprinkled with flour. The wriggling of the slugs and the patterns subsequently left behind on the saucers were believed to portray the faces of the women's future spouses.

It’s all very pagan, really. The Celts believed that the new year started on the 1st of November, with the celebration of Samhain, the beginning of winter and a time when the boundaries between the living and the dead were blurred. And on this night in 1938, Orson Welles played a frightening trick on radio listeners by broadcasting his production of The War of the Worlds.

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