Traditional spooky stuff and grown-up accessories that just scream Halloween
Embrace traditional spooky stuff and grown-up accessories that just scream Halloween
The spooky season is upon us again! For the next few weeks the shops will be filled with pumpkins, fake cobwebs, and scary decorations. Not everyone loves Halloween. Some pets (and their owners) get seriously stressed out by the fireworks. But, if you're into interiors, Halloween is the year's best excuse for dressing up the house. It's like Christmas, but without the pressure.
One of the best things about Halloween décor is that you can take it on whatever level you want. The decorations in the shops range from traditional spooky stuff in orange and black to classy grown-up accessories. If you already have trendy dark walls, the latter will segue very neatly into a scheme for Samhain. Use a metallic crowned skull (€30) from Homebase, for example, combined with candles and a tasteful arrangement of bare branches, to create a subtle sense of the macabre. Halloween, after all, is Ireland's festival of the dead.
In pagan times, Oíche Shamhna marked a turning point in the year, the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark days of winter. It was a time when the doors to the otherworld swung open.
"I still put a candle in the window for the dead to come back to visit," says the folklorist Michael Fortune. "I don't believe in it, but I still do it."
His grandmother, he remembers, used to go up to bed on Halloween night leaving the door ajar. There'd be a small fire lighting, with a chair beside it for the returning souls. She'd put a bowl of water and a towel, in case they'd want a wash, and she'd leave a bit of food on the table for them.
"These customs were very localised," Fortune explains. "Villages even 10 miles apart would celebrate Halloween in different ways, and some of them wouldn't celebrate it at all. Halloween is an Irish festival but it wasn't as widespread as we'd like to think."
Traditional decorations were simple. The candle left burning in the window might be stuck in a bucket of sand or a potato, for reasons of safety. Turnips were carved into lanterns with spooky faces, often with an improvised handle made from a wire coat hanger. Masks could be made from old pillowcases, eye and mouth holes scorched out with a candle flame.
The notion of carving pumpkins, rather than the traditional Irish turnip, came from America. This led the orange and black colour scheme, now so ubiquitous that it's hard to get away from. The phrase 'Trick or Treat' is American too. It's fun to embrace the over-the-top, three-week long, international carnival of contemporary Halloween, but you can also reclaim the festival - just a little - by bringing in some Irish traditions.
Just how far would you go with Halloween décor? Pixers, a company that makes wallpaper murals, has introduced a wonderful range of spooky designs on vinyl. At 300 x 250cms they're large enough to cover a whole wall and cost €293. Some of them, you could live with all year round. 'Pumpkin Vertigo', drawings of pumpkins against a black background, could pass as trendy wallpaper. So could 'In the Darkness', a pattern of Mexican-style decorative skulls and roses. But how about 'In the Darkness' (a vampire with blood dripping from her fangs) or the sinister laboratory curiously entitled Jam?
"There is a lot of interest in Halloween designs, but people tend to choose smaller designs than the ones that we use in photographs," says Aleksandra Wronecka of Pixers. "They can be printed on to self-adhesive Pixerstick which is repositionable so it can be taken off the wall and kept for next year." If you decide to go for a full-size wall mural, the upside is that you won't need any other Halloween decorations. Anything more would be overkill. Delivery to Ireland costs either €10 (arrives in up to seven working days) or €15 (up to four working days). Real candles give the most atmospheric light, but they can't be left unattended. If you've got a household of kids running around, LED candles are a whole lot safer than naked flames.
"Staying safe is the most important thing and all our lights are super-safe around the home," says Lisa Watkinson from the decorative lighting company Lights4fun. Its faux candles include a pair of LED flickering church candles (€11), made from real wax, shaped to look as though it's dripping. While I completely get the safety thing, isn't this taking it a step too far? I think I'd prefer to stick with real candles and just be careful with them.
I feel the same way about a Jaunty Jack lifesize LED pumpkin (€12). Yes, it looks just like a real one. But isn't excavating your vegetable of choice part of the fun of the festival? And you won't be able to make soup from the scrapings of a faux pumpkin. On the plus side, reusable decorations save on waste. Keep them carefully and they'll last you for years.
I am a fan of fairy lights though, and those on offer at Lights4fun range from Pumpkin orange fairy lights (€12) - good fun but not in a subtle way - to a delicate string of 20 rose gold leaf fairy lights (€17). These are more autumnal than Halloween in style, and would look lovely entwined in natural foliage. Lights4fun is based in the UK and delivery to Ireland costs around €5 for small orders, which arrive in up to 10 working days. Larger purchases - and urgent orders - cost €15 and arrive within three days.
These international Halloween treats can be combined with customs that have Irish roots - like hanging apples from the ceiling and trying to eat them with your hands tied behind your back.
"I've heard people talk about making a big pot of colcannon for Halloween night," Fortune explains. "It would sit on the middle of the table - just one pot - and everyone would take their dinner out of it." What went into the pot would vary from one part of Ireland to another. "The hipster chefs will tell you the authentic way to make colcannon but people actually used whatever vegetables were in season."
You can find out more about Irish folklore on folklore.ie. See also pixers.uk, homebase.ie, and lights4fun.co.uk