Mystery and magic

It’s an ancient tradition that was revved up into a big sales event by the Americans – and in recent years  the celebration of Hallowe’en has taken off in a big way here in the UK as well.

In fact, last year, supermarket chain Asda reported a giant increase in October pumpkin sales, with around 2.2 million of the familiar orange globes being sold,  compared to 1.35 million in  2015.

Of course some of these might be destined for the pot as a pumpkin soup – but most will no doubt end up being carved into the familiar spooky head-shaped lampshades for the October 31st celebration.

The custom of making these so-called jack-o’-lanterns for Hallowe’en began in Ireland in the 19th century when the then more commonly available turnips or mangel wurzels were hollowed out and carved with grotesque faces, to be used as lanterns.

This reflected the fact that Hallowe’en evolved from the Celtic festival of Samhain –  a time when supernatural beings and the souls of the dead were believed to roam the earth, and people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. 

So those young ‘trick-or-treaters’ who roll up at your front door later this month, demanding sweets with menaces, are actually playing the part of those much-feared ghosts and ghouls, in a lighthearted way.

Of course Hallowe’en is widely associated with mystery, magic and superstition, and this, too, goes back centuries. 

Many of the ancient October 31st rituals were about peering into the future, and many had to do with helping young women identify their future husbands. In 18th-century Ireland, for instance, a cook might bury a ring in her mashed potatoes on Halloween night, hoping to bring love to the diner who found it.

Another tale said that if a young woman ate a sweet concoction made out of walnuts, hazelnuts and nutmeg before bed on Halloween night, she would dream about her future husband.

And that still-popular Halloween game of apple-bobbing?  Well, it was originally played as a contest  to find out who would be the first to walk down the aisle.  Happy bobbing!