Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Hallowe’en, or should I say Samhain?

The year has its punctuation points in our house, and I like them. I suppose every home and every family has its rituals and traditions. Many of them belong to society too, to our various cultures, and we share them and enjoy them together in our communities. Some of those traditions are almost universal, particularly in the western world. It’s pretty difficult to get away from Christmas wherever you may be, and New Year too.

Hallowe’en has become a little like that, certainly since I had my children a couple of decades or so ago.

It wasn’t like that when I was a child, and it isn’t like that for me. The autumn was always special for lots of reasons: the start of a new school year, when everything seemed to change; the end of the long, hot summers we somehow used to have (remember 1976?); the return to Greenwich Mean Time really signifying something when we used to play outside and had to be in before dark, which meant we stayed inside after school and our playing habits changed completely. Our playground games changed too. There were no more insects to chase, and no more sun to shine through magnifying glasses. But there were conkers to collect and prime and string, and there were leaves to kick through, and muddy puddles. The food was different from season to season: The coconut ice was changed for toffee apples and the ice lollies for fairy cakes, and hot ribena was drunk from mugs instead of lemon barley water from beakers.

But I’m digressing, and growing nostalgic into the bargain.

We do not trick or treat and we do not dress up, except that one year the dort decided to be a pumpkin, and a fabulous pumpkin she was too. We didn’t have pumpkins when I was a kid. We hollowed out swedes, nips as the Scots would have it, and put our tealights in them. I distinctly remember the smell of their charring flesh.

For us, there is something mystical and romantic about Hallowe’en, about Samhain that has nothing to do with dressing up or about gorging on chocolate treats. It has nothing to do with pretending to be Superman or Lara Croft or one of Buffy the Vampire Slayers Victims or someone from Breaking Bad or the Walking Dead. 

Hallowe’en is about time. It is about old souls and new ones. It is about trusting that the world will not end as nature declines. Customarily it was about killing and preserving livestock and storing the harvest, and traditionally, feasting was part of that.

The dort's pumpkin for this year
So, we carve our pumpkins in preparation, and every year on October 31st we turn out the electric lights in favour of myriad candles, we set a cauldron on our table in the form of a fondue, and we cook together and eat together from it. It’s a wonderful meal to share, and the single best reason to do it is because it takes time. It takes time to cook individual morsels of meat in a cauldron of oil and eat them with bread and potatoes and vegetables. We talk and we cook, and we eat from the cauldron, and when the children were small we helped them to choose and cook their food. There are apples, too, always apples in some form, a juice, a cider or a pudding, but always apples.

The autumn is a special time, Samhain is special and Hallowe’en, however you choose to celebrate it is special, too.

I shall be thinking of all of you on Friday night when I’m sitting by candlelight at my cauldron with a fire blazing in my stove, and I shall be wishing you all a wonderful evening. I hope the skies are clear and inky black and I hope the stars are bright and more then all of that I hope your buckets are brimful of treats.


  1. Lovely essay! What are "swedes"? Are they parsnips?

    ~Tui, popping by from #WWWblogs on Twitter to say hi! :D

    1. They are Swedish turnips or Rutabagas, and I had to look that up, because we only and always called them swedes. Smiles.