Thursday, 31 October 2013

Everything you ever wanted to know about Halloween and then some!

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Happy Halloween!    The one night of the year that the streets team with spooks and goblins and trick or treaters!   It's one of my favourite nights of the year!  I thought it would be fun to look at some of the folklore, traditions and origins of the holiday this morning.

The word Halloween is a shortening of All Hallows' Evening also known as Hallowe'en or All Hallows' Eve. Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting "haunted houses" and carving jack-o-lanterns. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century including Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom as well as Australia and New Zealand.

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 Gabriel, Luke and daughter of my heart Anne carving their annual Halloween Pumpkin.

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced "sah-win"). The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Samhain was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.  (Spooky!!)

The festival would frequently involve bonfires. It is believed that the fires attracted insects to the area which attracted bats to the area. These are additional attributes of the history of Halloween. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.

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Trick-or-treating, is an activity enjoyed by children on Halloween.   Dressed up in costumes, they proceed from house to house, knocking on doors and asking for treats such as confectionery with the question, "Trick or treat?" The "trick" part of "trick or treat" is a threat to play a trick on the homeowner or his property if no treat is given. Trick-or-treating is one of the main traditions of Halloween. It has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters.

Some residents go to great lengths to decorate their homes and properties on this day, with spectacular light displays, spooky music, carved pumpkins and the like. In short, plenty of Halloween atmosphere to please the kiddies and send shivers down their backs as they run through the neighborhood.

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Part of the history of Halloween is Halloween costumes. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of "souling," when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas."

I can remember as a teen, going "Mummering." Dressed in costumes we visited friends and family in the countryside withholding our identity as best we could.  Mummering, mumming, or janneying ( in Newfoundland and Labrador) describes the practice of visiting several homes throughout an evening while dressed in a disguise. Usually groups of friends or family will piece together their disguises using whatever they have around their homes. They might change their walk, talk, shape, or size—whatever it takes to make them unrecognizable to the hosts of the homes they visit.

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Upon entering a home, the hosts would try to guess the identities of the mummers who were hidden behind some kind of mask. They might get poked at and prodded, or asked a series of questions. When answering questions, mummers would often disguise their voice. The most well-known tactic involved speaking while inhaling.

Once a janney was identified, they would remove their mask. The hosts would then usually offer them drink and food. In many homes, a host would not offer a drink until they guessed the mummer’s identity. With the lifting of the veil, the stranger becomes the friend and the whole group would socialize until the mummers suited up and headed out to the next home.

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A jack-o'-lantern (sometimes also spelled Jack O'Lantern) is typically a carved pumpkin. It is associated chiefly with the holiday Halloween. Typically the top is cut off, and the inside flesh then scooped out; an image, usually a monstrous face, is carved onto the outside surface, and the lid replaced. During the night, a candle is placed inside to illuminate the effect. The term is not particularly common outside North America, although the practice of carving lanterns for Halloween is.

In folklore, an old Irish folk tale tells of Jack, a lazy yet shrewd farmer who uses a cross to trap the Devil. One story says that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn't get down. Another myth says that Jack put a key in the Devil's pocket while he was suspended upside-down.

Another version of the myth says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen, when he met the Devil, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting the Devil with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told the Devil to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (the Devil could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin/Devil disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack had closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped. In both myths, Jack only lets the Devil go when he agrees never to take his soul.

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After a while the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, his life had been too sinful for Jack to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from Hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which was his favorite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or Jack-o'-Lantern.

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Trick-or-Treating hasn’t always been a part of Halloween celebrations. In fact, Halloween has only been celebrated in the US for a relatively short time. Celebrating All Hallow’s Eve was a practice that came over to the US with the first large wave of immigrants who came from Ireland, England and Scotland. In some parts of these countries it was common for kids to go out “guising” on All Hallow’s Eve to beg for food, money or other items. People who refused to give anything would sometimes find chalk drawings on their doors the next morning or find they were the victims of other pranks. When immigrants came to the US they brought their traditions with them and on All Hallow’s Eve each year in some immigrant communities it would be common to see small children, usually boys, with makeup or soot on their faces or wearing crude masks made from bags going around begging at different houses.

At the beginning of the 20th century “guising” was still not very popular and most people didn’t really know what Halloween was. But by the early 1920s the young trendsetters were beginning to throw lavish Halloween parties and there was renewed interest in “guising”. Stores started selling pre-made costumes that people could wear to disguise themselves and indulge in a little good natured Halloween fun. During WWII Halloween celebrations were toned down due to sugar rationing and the generally somber mood of the nation. By the time the war was over and people started the mad exodus to build homes in the suburbs the celebration of Halloween had gotten popular.

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The 50s and 60s were the decades when Trick-or-Treating became the important Halloween ritual they are today. Trick-or-Treating became the focus of Halloween celebrations because going Trick-or-Treating was seen as a wholesome activity for the whole family. Trick-or-Treating also became popular in the 50s and 60s because that was when living in subdivisions and newly built suburban neighborhoods became popular.

Trick-or-Treating remained popular through the 70s and 80s but by the 90s the practice of Trick-or-Treating began to change. Many different factors like the rise of people living in apartment buildings instead of free standing houses in suburban neighborhoods and the rise in non-traditional households contributed to the major changes that shaped Trick-or-Treating at the end of the 90s. In order to accommodate parents with busy schedules and in an effort to make Trick-or-Treating safer for kids it was moved largely indoors. Malls began to open for specific Trick-or-Treating events where kids in costume could go to different stores to receive candy and coupons.

These structured Halloween events also usually feature games, activities, and clowns and other performers to make the event even more special. Many neighborhoods have also designated special Trick-or-Treat hours to prevent a lot of Halloween mischief and help protect the safety of Trick-or-Treaters.   At our church we usually have "Trunk or Treat" events, where we can take our car to the church parking lot and the trunk or boot of the car is opened and decorated.  The costumed children move from car boot to car boot and get their treats and then there is generally a bit of a party inside the chapel afterwards.

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However which way you choose to celebrate Halloween this year, I wish for you a safe and happy event!  Even if all Halloween is for you, is sitting in front of the telly, watching a scary movie and munching on bite sized candy bars and sticky popcorn!

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No, it's not another costume.  It is my son Bruce and his dad.  Congratulations to Bruce on his accelerated promotion to Corporal, presented to him by his proud dad.  We are all proud of Bruce and love him very much! 

A report on the findings from the hospital yesterday . . .

Once again I had an abnormal EKG, although my blood pressure was very normal.  I was given a blood test for thyroid function, which suprisingly had never been done.  I am being given an appointment to have a Coronary Calcium Score, which is an X-ray investigation which involves a CT scanner which will take pictures of slices of my heart.   If there is any furring up of the ateries to the heart muscle there will be small areas of calcium which will show up.  If this happens then I will be given a CT Coronary  angiography.  I am also going to be given an Echo-cardiogram, which is an ultra sound wave of the heart.   At least I am in the system now and hopefully won't have to wait too long for further treatment!  Your prayers and happy thoughts are always appreciated! 

A thought to carry with you through today . . .

Learn to smile at every situation.
See it as an opportunity
to prove your strength and ability.
~Joe Brown  

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Cooking in The English Kitchen today . . . a tasty Bread, Cheese and Tomato Omelet.   Cooking for one.  Or Two.  Easily multiplied.

Have a safe and a Happy Halloween!

PSSTT!!  Today is also my thirteenth anniversary of arriving to take up residence in the UK!


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