This year as we prepare for Halloween, consider this: Holidays like Halloween began as a significant part of our lives, born of an authentic human need. We don't want cheap imitations foisted on us by corporations trying to sell us their wares. Many of us are looking to slow down, and to experience real culture, and so I double dare you to join me and reclaim Halloween.
Halloween, or Samhain, is so much older than fun-size candy bars and nylon costumes. It was born in Ireland in the middle ages, and is a beautiful festival full of ritual, and traditional food, where communities gather together in front of bonfires to draw strength from each other.
Halloween focuses much on the spirit world. But you don't have to believe in any of that to face your own mortality, to draw strength from your community, or to appreciate other cultural traditions. And you don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. I know your kids will still want their costumes and candy, but by incorporating some of the older traditions you will enhance your festivities.
On the last night of October, when the long nights draw in, Halloween opens a door to the spirit world at sundown, letting the souls of the departed roam the earth until dawn.
It's a night to celebrate and remember fondly your loved ones who have died, but also to understand that we all face the same fate, which we'd prefer to delay as long as possible.
Legend has it that on Halloween, some spirits return to try to take some souls back with them. Just as in life, some people can be mean in death!
Your main strategy to survive this dreaded fate on Halloween is to try your hardest to look just like a spirit, to fool the genuine spirits into passing you by. (That's why we dress in costume.)
WARNING: The dead don't look like sexy police officers, princesses, kittens, or Big Bird.
So, here are your instructions.
Disguise yourself as a spirit. Wipe some ashes on your face, or, you know... use your imagination from what you have lying around the house!
Make Colcannon for a simple evening dinner using this traditional recipe. My Irish mum used to throw in some coins wrapped in tin foil. No, the kids won't choke -- believe me, they will go digging first (you can help the smaller kids) and they will be encouraged to eat their greens when they know they get to keep the money they find on their plates.
Bake an Irish Barmbrack for dessert, using this traditional recipe, and fill it with the symbolic trinkets -- such as a ring, which foretells an imminent marriage, a button, which means you will never marry, and a coin, which means that you'll be rich! It's silly and fun, I promise!
Knock on your neighbors' doors with your children, and offer a blessing on their homes. Perform a song, a poem, a dance -- or offer wishes for health, wealth, and long life and a house filled with happiness and safety. Kids love preparing for this, an older form of Trick or Treating. I remember during my childhood in Ireland practicing Grease dance routines for weeks with my friends to perform on our neighbors' doorsteps on Halloween.
If someone comes to your door, ask them to recite a poem, sing a song or do a dance. Feel blessed and enjoy it. Clap, and thank them for their offering with a reward of food, drink, sweet treats, or coins. Make toffee apples (recipe) for the kids who know you.
Later in the night, light a bonfire outside to frighten off the bad spirits. Gather close with your family, friends, and neighbors of all ages. Face the fire together and turn your backs to the dark. Pass around some hot drinks (hot cider, port, tea, milk). Sing, laugh, dance, and draw strength from each other.
Bring carved pumpkins (or the original turnips, if you want to really challenge yourself), and take a light from the bonfire home, to keep you safe.
Halloween reminds us that we are fragile mortals, and that we must cling to each other like life depends on it, because it does.