Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween

American Trick or treat developed out of Scottish 'guising' - when immigrants took their traditional Halloween celebrations to the new world.
'Guising' is going from house to house dressed up in disguise and singing a song or dancing or telling a joke or some sort of forfeit in exchange for fruit and nuts - sweets came much later.

Pumpkins were used to make lanterns becuase turnips or swedes [what are called rutabaga in the US] were not so readily available to make lanterns from - and although i'm a traditionalist, I have to say that pumpkins are easier to carve.

Modern Halloween has only been celebrated here in the South of France for about 8 years. A Celtic festival called something similar to the Gaelic Samhain-thought to mean 'summers end' ; SAMON[IOS] may have been celebrated here -at least many people suggest that thats what is referred to on the Coligny calendar -but it does not seem to have survived to recent modern times in the way it has in other places-at least not as overtly.

Instead, Toussaint was celebrated- All saints Day on the first of November and to an extent it overlapped with the Day of the Dead on November the second. Candles were lit and flowers [especially crysanthemums ] are placed on graves of the family dead.

Apparently though, until the 19th century, hollowed out beetroots with candles inside were carried by children in Northern France and Belgium - the children asked for 'two cents for the poor dead souls' "on çan po lès pauvès-âmes!" and there were also beliefs that the dead could come back at this time and visit the ones left behind.
This is very similar to carrying 'tumshie lanterns' [turnip lanterns] and 'tattie bogles' [monsters made of potatoes or kale roots] around in Scotland while guising for Halloween.

These potatoes were found in the bottom of my cupboard and they'd have been a good start for making tattie bogles if they'd been bigger.

Now the holiday has been imported into France from the US - so the emphasis is on trick or treat and the vampire/witch/ghost/devil type disguises rather than getting masked or painted just to look different and out of the ordinary. Shops hand out sweets and ballons to the 'trick or treaters' - no one goes from house to house.

We have always tried to have a fairly traditional halloween celebration though at first when we mentioned Halloween, people here had only heard of the horror films and were really unsure of the concept.
The children really enjoy dressing up and playing traditional games - or at least variations on the theme. Instead of scones covered in treacle suspended on strings that had to be grabbed in the mouth without gettting too messy, I used slices of whole meal bread and nutella - similar concept and much more familiar. I tried treacle at first but that was universally rejected so nutella was the best alternative.
Apple dooking [ducking] always goes down well- as long as somone who knows what to do goes first.

We always try to have traditional turnip lanterns -though its often difficult to find turnips large enough. Almost every year people advise me that the turnips i've chosen will be rotten for cooking - since the turnips here are meant to be tiny. After several bizarre conversations over the years about why i want large and woody turnips, i've given up explaining what i intend to do with them. Its easier just to feign ignorance.

To me, the smell of smouldering turnip is the essence of halloween. Carving the turnip was something we did with my dad, when i was a child. I loved eating the raw turnip as we carved it out - and i still love it to this day. Placing the candle properly was always a painstaking task and something my dad always dealt with - now we tend to use tea lights since they are handy in size and shape and of course the turnips we use now are miniature in comparison with the ones available in Scotland.

Here are the three turnips we carved this year. They make an interesting yellow coloured light despite the flesh of the turnip being pure white.

This is the one I carved - I always make a reasonably happy face for some reason- even if i intend to make it more spooky.


BTW I've quickly made a banner and put it up on the top blog for Halloween.
I'm going to try and keep it seasonal and change the banner regularly now i know how to change it.












7 comments:

Anji said...

I live near to La Rochelle and I thought you'd like to know that halloween seems to have all but fizzled out here. We had about three visits (house to house) this year. Plenty of masks etc. in the shops, I wonder how many they sold?

Caroline said...

Good Halloween posting - this would definitely have made my list if I've found it in time...

Alison Ashwell said...

Anji- I thought Halloween would fizzle out here about 2 years back but it seems to have revived again.
The teenagers like slinking around as vampires and witches and that is probably keeping things going.
When i was young I probbaly kept guising longer than other kids my age as i had the excuse of taking my younger sisters round =)

Caroline - a nice compliment, thanks. I was quite late in getting the post up on the blog

Alison Ashwell said...

Anji- I thought Halloween would fizzle out here about 2 years back but it seems to have revived again.
The teenagers like slinking around as vampires and witches and that is probably keeping things going.
When i was young I probbaly kept guising longer than other kids my age as i had the excuse of taking my younger sisters round =)

Caroline - a nice compliment, thanks. I was quite late in getting the post up on the blog

Chas Ravndal said...

hello alison!!! Thanks for dropping by on my blog.. Neat pictures you got on Halloween!! TC

The Diaper Dame said...

Wow, what an interesting blog! Our version of Hallowe'en has become so Americanized... it's really interesting to learn how it's celebrating in the "olde country," as my Scottish-born great-grandmother used to say.

Yolanda said...

Those turnips look so cool!