Thursday, October 23, 2014

Happy Samhain


I miss the way Halloween used to be. When I was trick-or-treat age, back in the Middle Ages, as soon as darkness fell on Oct 31, the streets of my suburban neighborhood filled with seas of little hobos and pirates and witches. It was literally a mob scene.

And the treats! No store-bought mini-Snickers for us mid-century ragamuffins. Sadly, it’s not a good idea to give out homemade treats any more, unless both the giver and receiver have undergone a background check. I’d be loathe to let my kid eat a stranger’s cookie. But in those halcyon days, my sisters and I always came home with a pillow case full of little bags of cookies and brownies, apples and packs of Juicy Fruit gum, dimes and nickels, licorice whips, Slo-Pokes, Hershey Bars, and my very favorite treat of all time, popcorn balls! No homemade treats these days. Maybe not even door-to-door trick-or-treating. But then again, Halloween didn't used to be all about candy, either.

In one of my past working incarnations, I owned a Celtic gift shop. I imported gift items from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales - all the Celtic countries, in fact, which include Man, Brittany, and Galicia. This time of year is a very big deal for Celtic peoples, for midnight on Oct. 31 is the turning of the year – Samhain, or Celtic New Year, and the origin of our Halloween. This is the time when the veil between this world and the next is at it's thinnest, and those with eyes to see are able to see right through to the other side, where the dead live. Some Celtic people would light bonfires on Samhain eve to guide the souls of loved ones, and make lanterns out of hollowed out turnips to lead the dead home for their annual visit.

My husband remembers that every Halloween, his father would dig a pit in back of the house, line it with bricks, fill it with wood, and light what they called a "bonfire", though it was more like a good sized campfire. The family would sit around it and roast wieners and marshmallows on sticks and stretched-out hangars. He has no idea where the family tradition came from, but I'm guessing it was passed down through the family from the misty past, for such traditions are remarkably enduring. So, if you live in the country or don't worry about being fined for building an open fire in your back yard, stretch out those hangars and get yourself a bag of marshmallows, and take a trip into the past with some campfire s’mores.

Put a slab of Hershey bar on top of a Graham cracker, put a melty-hot roasted marshmallow on the chocolate, top with another Graham cracker, and enjoy.

By the way, Samhain is pronounced "SHAW-win." In Gaelic, that mh makes a "w" sound in the middle of a word.

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

What a wonderful tradition. And one of which I was unaware. I, too, miss the Halloween Halcyon days before all the scary stuff of the modern age. My health-conscious mom would always offer to buy our loot after we'd been trick-or-treating, so it was a wrestle to decide: candy or money?