Ghosts of Halloweens Past

Yesterday witnessed the celebration of All Hallows’ Evening in numerous countries across the globe. A time of fancy dress, imaginatively sculptured pumpkins and hyper kids not sleeping after eating six bags of Haribo gummy bears, four lollipops and eighteen sherbet dips.

Blimey, I’m showing my age there. I’m not even sure you can still purchase sherbet dips. If not, you kids are missing out on a confectionery that fuelled hours of my childhood participation in football and cricket games.

I’m not sure if sherbet dips can be classed as a performance enhancing drug. However, if they are, I was lucky there were no blood tests taken after playing footy on Gateshead’s Allerdene field back in the day!

It’s widely believed Halloween traditions are heavily Celtic influenced. I’m assuming historians making these propositions referring to Celtic tribes were the instigators of these festivals. Not that the rituals were the brainchild of Jock Stein, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch et al on the plane home after Celtic Football Club had won the European Cup in 1967.

My kids are in their thirties now, but I can still recall their childhood excitement on 31st October.

Although not so much when they were babes/toddlers when we lived in Luton. A place where Halloween somehow didn’t have the same appeal. At the time I was unsure why; however, on reflection it’s probably the fact there wasn’t any novelty value to the evening. After all, we became used to frightening looking people with teeth missing knocking on our door for extortion purposes.

Following our move to Leeds when my two offspring (Jonny & Rachel) were age 6 and 3 respectively, on All Hallows’ Evening I would sculpt their lanterns from hollowed out pumpkins or large turnips. 

The turnip hollowing only undertaken to maintain a childhood tradition of mine. The root veg certainly wasn’t chosen for the ease of carving. A task which, even with sharp knife and chisel, was onerous in the extreme. 

Eventually, during a year where I struggled to carve the goddamn thing with a pneumatic drill, I exclaimed “Bollocks to this!” and forthwith utilised pumpkin to sculpt into a Halloween lantern.

One year I hollowed out a pumpkin so large, as my son Jonny could not lift it, he had to wheel it around on a skateboard. This mammoth lantern’s candle was so vast that it illuminated most of East Leeds, and was very possibly viewable from the Moon. 

After Halloween, I removed the candle by crane and the kids used it as a play shed. When my progeny fled the nest I sold the vast pumpkin to Haven holidays, where it is now utilised as a holidaymakers chalet.

When I was a kid in the 70’s Halloween wasn’t as Americanised as it is now. My dad did sculpt my brother Ian, sister Helen and me a lantern from a hollowed-out turnip, however I don’t recall dressing up or even ‘trick or treating’.

An ‘old school’ turnip lantern

Halloween was pretty rubbish from a getting sweets perspective back then. On the plus side, for our parents at least, we weren’t up till all hours hyper from a sugar rush, like todays youth.

The poorer kids in our area whose parents couldn’t afford turnips improvised by hollowing out onions. When they came to your door dishevelled and in tears, it was hard to tell whether it was a result of poverty or merely the fact they were carrying a carved onion.

My memories of childhood Halloween’s are pretty sketchy; however, I do recall one of our neighbours held Halloween house party. 

At these shindigs, children and adults congregated in the front room with turnip lanterns; which, as they were too tight to put their heating on, provided valuable additional warmth on cold northeast England nights. Especially during that evening when one of the cushions caught fire from a recklessly placed candle.

The lights were dimmed, not so we could get the full effect of the sculpted faces on our lanterns, rather so we couldn’t view the hideous disfigurement of a neighbour stricken with leprosy.

I can recall during the party ‘bobbing for apples’ from a large bowl of water. On year, though, the game finished early after the bloke with leprosy’s nose came off during his turn.

We were easily pleased in those days. In this technological era kids now would rather bob for a different type of apple; one with a capital ‘A’.  Spoils of competition like an iPad, iPod and iPhone are now sought, not pieces of fruit which had resided on a tree a few days back.

Warning – If you do desire an Apple device don’t attempt to retrieve them from a bowl of water!… Especially if they are plugged to the electric socket!!

As I now live alone in a first-floor apartment, which is part of a secured block, yesterday evening I didn’t get hassled by trick or treaters… Oh well, I’ll have to eat all the treat bags of Haribos I bought last weekend.

However, I do tend to smarten myself up on Halloween these days just in case. This approach taken after last time I opened to the door to a ‘trick or treaters’ when my appearance was so dishevelled one of the kids gave me sweets!

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