Thursday 14 November 2019

Helen Moorhouse: Scariest bit about Halloween? How it's grown into a monster

OCTOBER 31, when those who have passed over pop back for some mayhem and mischief. Exciting stuff.

Many of us remember it as the time of year when Aonghus McAnally would bury his face in a pile of flour topped with a glace cherry and you might get a new mask made from plastic with two eyeholes, no nosehole and a bit of elastic to hold it on -- if last year's wasn't too battered, that is.

Some things don't change -- Halloween has always been very hazardous. Choking's a big risk, what with the appearance of the the most dangerous foodstuff known to man -- Barm Brack. Packed with rags, peas, beans and other respiratory threats.

There's always been egging. And with the arrival proper of the dark evenings, it's also traditional to light the fire -- otherwise known as that 30-foot pile of palettes, which will make your bin melt and the 'Wicker Man' look civilised.

But when did it get so elaborate? What's with the decorating?

In yesteryear, the main embellishment to anyone's home at Halloween was a foot-high pile of nutshells. A quick glance down my road today reveals skeletons, a ghost with a pumpkin for a head, a pumpkin with a ghost for a head, and a massive window cobweb. Although I think an elderly person might live in that house.

The business of banging on people's doors and soliciting snacks is nothing newfangled. At first, it was called 'souling', where singing and saying prayers for the dead was rewarded with cake. Not content with the Memorares-for-Battenburg scheme, our American cousins invented 'Trick or Treat', where callers performed a party piece in return for snacks. We've now streamlined it into something infinitely simpler: Kids knock at your door, kids thrust a plastic bag in your face, kids actually speak only if you're the spoilsport who doles out fruit instead of Cadbury's Heroes. Or cash, although they will take Laser.

As for costumes -- why do I have to send my kid to Montessori disguised as Spongebob? Why do I have to go to work disguised as Spongebob, for that matter?

And when did Halloween stop being a day and become a season?

It's only going to get more elaborate, you know. Soon you'll not only have to carve out your own jack o'lantern, but you'll have to pick it at a pumpkin patch and post pictures on Facebook to prove it.

You won't just dress up your kids, you'll have to dress up too. And so will your parents. And their parents. Soon, we'll all get changed into our costumes on September 30 and lurch around for a month dressed as middle-aged mermaids and pensioner pirates.

And your house decorations won't be sufficient either. It'll become law that your home will actually have to be haunted.

It makes you long for the days when it was simply the most disappointment-packed festival of the year. When those giant balls of chocolate on sticks sprinkled with hundreds and thousands turned out to be just bloody apples. When the ring in the brack wasn't a massive diamond one -- as advertised on the packaging.

When you played super fun games like having your face dunked in water to retrieve a reward (which was another bloody apple). When you got chased with a stick for knocking on someone's door instead of a bucketful of penny sweets and when your costume was a modified refuse sack and a mask so dull it wouldn't even frighten the dog.

Spooky.

Irish Independent

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