Friday, October 29, 2010
Memories of Hallowe'en
Hallowe’en has roots in the Celtic festival of Sanhein and in the Christian holiday All Saints Day. All our rituals of costume, scary and evil characters and ‘trick and treating’ are left overs incorporated into one fun filled evening. In Scotland for instance, young men dressed in white costume with veiled or dark masks to apparently appease evil spirits of the dead. And beggars in England went door to door begging for food on Hallomas – the day after Hallowe’en evening.
All I knew about Hallowe’en as a child was that you came home with a bag full of goodies and those of the Catholic faith had to do something on November 1st, All Saints Day.
Hallowe’en was a time for masking oneself, for trick and treating, for fun games, for mischief!.
We started by anticipating a mask….usually just a small thing that covered the eyes and as we got older charcoaled or grossly made up faces. And paper bag masks. Paper sacks were drawn with crayon into some grotesgue gargoyle like face, slits cut for eyes and worn over the head. The younger children who would remain at home would wear these for weeks about the house and you were forever replacing paper bag masks as they became torn and abused while the make believe ‘devils’ fought for supremacy. Paper bag masks were also produced in school art periods with crayon and added construction paper.
Most school classes featured a ‘costume day’ where you paraded through the auditorium and the best costumes were selected by teachers. Purchased costumes were made primarily of crepe paper that would quickly disintegrate into a wet mass when worn out in the snow. Most families could not afford the cash outlay so costumes were primarily homemade. Our school parades featured a multitude of ghosts draped in old bed sheets, hobos (vagrants) dressed in someone’s larger clothes with sooted faces and a handkerchief of worldly possessions hung from a stick. A few straw men and many, many Egyptian mummies! There was one school Hallowe'en parade that remains forever in my memory. Our last year before moving on to wht is now termed 'middle school' . A rather large boy, still with all his 'baby fat' and added more.....arrived dressed in a 'baby bonnet' ......and a HUGE diaper carrying a baby bottle. I could not look at him....I had never seen so much naked flesh parading anywhere! I still see him....and am still somewhat aghast!
We usually ventured out into the snow and cold to do our ‘trick or treating’ so costumes were not a primary concern. We would layer larger garments over our winter clothing and maybe a silly hat; and admire each other for the good looking fools we became.
So bundled up warm with a mask and a paper bag for goodies off we older children went into the dark night where ghosts and evil spirits lurked; one year I actually ‘saw’ a witch fly across the moon! I can’t seem to recall pumpkins being carved although there must have been some somewhere in town, but not in our area. Not at least until my sister and I started working and had throw away cash to purchase a pumpkin strictly for decoration and not the food table. But porch lights were all ablaze as we set out. If a porch light were not lit you knew you could not knock at that door. No one had yard decorations…no lanterns or ghostly sheets in trees. We were allowed to only travel our street and one other. None of this run all over town. We always wanted however to venture to ‘snob’s hill’ where the professionals lived for we heard the treats on the hill were awesome! But we wouldn’t dare for we would be found out if we were over our ‘time allotment’
Then started the ‘trick or treat’ gimmick. ‘Trick’ supposedly inferred …. ‘give me a treat or else I will perform some mischief on your property. Of course this was reversed by the grownups to translate – “you do a trick and I will give you a treat’. They always had a trick or two up their sleeves those adults! My sister always had more in her sack than I ever had … she would actually sing for a ‘trick’ much to my embarassement.
Tricks were played. Friends of ours who lived in farm country would inevitably wake in the morning to discover their outhouse was sitting high on a perch in a tree; others may find their yard gates suspended from a telephone pole. But that’s all it was – done in good fun and nothing that couldn’t be quickly remedied the next morning.
The excitement of venturing out on dark and ‘scary’ Hallowe’en will forever live in my memory and I am still to this day ‘mad about Hallowe’en!
More to come…
For a description of these 'naive' works of art see my art blog:-pinnaclesandpotholes