Saturday 18 January 2020

How PC brigade took Halloween from Wickerman to Hocus Pocus

Students Zoe Doyle and Izabela Janczak from Whitehall College of Further Education in Dublin at a Halloween event in aid of 'Trick or Treat for Temple Street' Photo: Conor McCabe
Students Zoe Doyle and Izabela Janczak from Whitehall College of Further Education in Dublin at a Halloween event in aid of 'Trick or Treat for Temple Street' Photo: Conor McCabe
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Halloween is an odd event; you dress your children up as gothic murderers or reanimated corpses who feast on the living, before sending them out into the dark of night to roam the streets and accept sweets from creepy looking strangers.

Meanwhile, adults indulge in a vanity project like no other - the voguing in pubs on Halloween night is a thing of beauty. Throw on a wig and any shred of clichéd Irish modesty flies out the door on a broomstick.

While Halloween purports to be the wildest and scariest holiday going - health and safety officials have plastered red tape all over October 31, resulting in some of the older and terrifying traditions falling out of favour.

Roisin Reidy (11) from BallyMcElligott, Co Kerry, dressed for Halloween to remind everyone to put their clocks back one hour at 2am tomorrow Photos: Domnick Walsh
Roisin Reidy (11) from BallyMcElligott, Co Kerry, dressed for Halloween to remind everyone to put their clocks back one hour at 2am tomorrow Photos: Domnick Walsh

But let's cast our minds back to a time when Halloween was more Wickerman level of creepy, than Hocus Pocus fun.

A time when mammies around the country would shove a fruit-laden Barmbrack in the oven - filled with an assortment of hazardous and highly choke-able objects.

Nowadays a ring carefully wrapped in paper and issued with a government health warning is all you will find in a loaf.

All ready for fright night: Aoife McGann (7) at Scoil na Maighdine Mhuire, Newmarket on Fergus, Co Clare Photo: Brian Arthur
All ready for fright night: Aoife McGann (7) at Scoil na Maighdine Mhuire, Newmarket on Fergus, Co Clare Photo: Brian Arthur

Back in the day, however, there used to be everything bar the kitchen sink in a brack. A pea meant a wedding was off the cards, a bit of cloth foretold a life of poverty, while a penny meant you were going to be minted.

The ring symbolised marriage, but bite into a thimble and not only would you be left with a chipped molar but you were also destined to be a lonely old spinster - psych!

Finally, a match stick "to beat your wife" warned of an unhappy marriage.

Most of these tokens have been ditched because the prospect of dying alone/ living in abject poverty/ or being a victim of domestic abuse tends to put a downer on your bank holiday weekend. Plus, it's a compensation lawyer's dream case.

Other traditions have also dwindled out - bobbing for apples for example hasn't weathered well. Not totally surprising, given the game involved shoving your head in an ice cold bucket of water to retrieve that coveted prize - a Cox's Pippin.

Other games included trying to find a penny in a bowl of flour, Passing the Apple and Snap Apple - which involved biting a coin out of an apple. (Side note: windfall fruit used to be Halloween's Most Valuable Player).

Now children do stuff that is actually fun - like hitting a piñata full of Haribo.

Much less chance of anyone drowning/ catching a head cold/ choking to death on loose change.

Some red tape warnings have drastically improved Halloween. I'm talking, of course, about the demise of the monkey nut.

Allergies have made the legume disappear. And not a moment too soon - anyone who thinks handing out shelled nuts at Halloween is a good idea is a monster.

According to the National Irish Safety Organisation, instead of carving pumpkins we should consider purchasing "pretend pumpkins" or draw grins on with "the use of markers or paints".

In the '70s and '80s, parents would dress their children in clothing that was so flammable it could have been used as kindling.

And the costumes have been more skilfully put together. Twenty years ago, wrapping your child in a bin liner (a cat/ bat costume) was thrifty ingenuity, but nowadays it's poor parenting.

This week, some 'trick-or-treaters' faced last minute costume changes when the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) issued a warning against the wearing of novelty contact lenses.

"Improperly fitting contact lenses can cause damage to the cornea, ulceration, or blurred vision," Optometric Advisor Lynda McGivney Nolan said.

It may be an inconvenience but all this red tape rejigging encapsulates what Halloween is all about.

Each year there is a new slate of novelty costumes tailored to reflect the fads and obsessions of the last 12 months. Old traditions are vetoed and new trends pushed forward.

While Christmas and Easter traditions are adhered to religiously - this is a malleable, mental and moveable feast.

Irish Independent

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