Thursday, 8 November 2012

Best laid plans and all that...

After all my planning ahead and idle musing on things a few weeks back - and then feeling all smug and organised - Samhainn rolls around and we here in our corner of the universe celebrate it with the delightful aftermath of Norovirus.

Which was nice.

If ever there's a sign that winter's here - you know, aside from the frost and snow we've had - the dreaded Great Affliction is pretty much a dead giveaway, I suppose. So things were a little more scaled back than planned, although all of the important stuff got done, fun was nonetheless had, and I think it was - all in all - a success.

The downside of being a parent is that your kids will inevitably bring varying kinds of snot and bugs home from school so you get to live it all vicariously through one child and then another before you get to experience the delights first hand (my child-free friends are grinning smugly at me through the internet, I can feel it...). By the time it comes around at least you know what to expect, I suppose. On the plus side, by the time the eve of Samhainn rolled around we were all over the worst of it and we were all feeling just a little tired and delicate rather than properly unwell, so at least we were able to celebrate. The feasting element of the proceedings were not something I was particularly keen on, though; nor was Mr Seren. But for some reason, as if my own body was trying to tell me something, I'd had a real craving for gingerbread at the weekend so I'd done some festive biscuits:

And that was all I could really stomach on the eve itself; the ginger helped settle any rumblings quite nicely. I was originally going to let the kids decorate them but Rosie couldn't stomach it and Tom only decided to help out once I'd done most of them. He was very proud of his efforts, though. "The red's blood, mum," he said helpfully. I'd baked a whole load of cake with the intention of sculpting a festive cake, too, but that just wasn't going to happen in the end - so much for great ideas.

But the morning before the big evening rolled around, the kids came bouncing in excitedly to wake me up so they could have breakfast and get ready for the Hallowe'en parade at school. Tom was going to go as Optimus Prime, but after wearing the costume to the Hallowe'en disco the week before and finding it way too small he opted for his old Power Ranger costume instead. Rosie went as "Bat Cat," as planned. She wanted some face paints to complete the look so I did what I could there, with the hasty help of Google that morning:

So long as she had whiskers she didn't really care, so she was very pleased with her look in the end. I managed to drag myself along to the parade later that morning to cheer them on, and the school was awash with anticipation. And also Norovirus, probably. 

There's nothing like a good bout of lurgy to motivate a thorough housecleaning session, is there? So the house was shipshape and in good order for the evening festivities, and I got some decorations up at least, in between a nap or two during the day. While we did get round to making some more decorations during the half-term holiday we haven't done a seasonal mural yet; our Great Affliction scuppered any plans to do it at the weekend, along with a Hallowe'en party Tom was invited to and the party games I'd had planned.

My mother-in-law had got us a large pumpkin for carving (they were on special offer so she got us one spare), so I'd bought two smaller ones for cooking - in the comments of my previous planning post Judith suggested a bread and butter pudding baked in a pumpkin that sounded delicious, and I was going to give that a go until the Great Affliction happened. The other small one was intended for soup and another lantern if I could manage to get the flesh out without having to cut it up. By Samhainn eve I'd already scooped out one of the small pumpkins so I could use the flesh for soup, which I'd done at the weekend while the kids were ill (and my husband promptly ate the whole lot before anyone else got some, barring a small mug I'd had, to see how it was). By Wednesday, although I had at least one pumpkin ready to carve I wasn't convinced I could stomach doing even that one. Mr Seren chipped in and carved the big one into a Stormtrooper's helmet (ish), though, so I knew we'd have at least one. But when I picked the kids up from school the fresh air did me good and I knew I'd have to keep them occupied until they could could go out guising, so they were set with the task of designing a lantern each. The flesh from the second smaller pumpkin went to another batch of soup, instead of pudding. For that we made do with cake (or the kids did, anyway).

I usually carve the lanterns the night before Samhainn, as a way of kicking off celebrations. That night I usually devote to the ancestors in particular, while I carve and make some opening offerings. But given the delicate nature of my condition that evening, carving was out of the question then. I didn't have the opportunity to get any tumshies at all so this year there were no turnip lanterns - that was a real shame, but while I wasn't convinced I'd manage the pumpkins, to begin with, I knew there was no way my nose/stomach would stretch to accommodate the stench of turnip. But what we ended up with still did the job nicely:

Tom designed the cross-eyed one, and Rosie decided the scariest thing she could think of was a spider after flicking through Google and being told that no, butterflies weren't scary and E.T. was way beyond anything I can manage. I royally ballsed up the legs on hers, but I think Tom's came out pretty good.  Young sir was very pleased with it, anyway, and we had fun talking about all the scary things that would be afoot that night as they got creative.

By the time the carving was done it was time to do dinner - I did stovies, since the soup needed a bit longer to cook (we had that the next day). And then we lit the lanterns and put them in the windows at the front of the house to let the guisers know that they were welcome, with great ceremony and excitment. Mr Seren did some games and dancing with the kids while I was doing the fiddly bits of carving and then dinner, but we just didn't have time for party games proper in the end. Seeing as many of the games are food-based, that was probably for the best! But after dinner the kids did go out guising and that's really all they wanted to do, so as far as they were concerned it was the best Samhainn EVAR. For me, though, it's another year without having tried treacle scones. A sad Gaelic Polytheist am I.

While Mr Seren was out with the kids, I had the opportunity to get my ritual on. The guisers were very thoughtful and managed to space their visits out between my opening offerings, then my prayers and devotions, saining and putting up some rowan and so on. It was a little piecemeal in some respects, but none the worse for that.

For once I could sain the kids' room properly without disturbing them - I usually have to do it after they've gone to bed, so I had some luxury to be more thorough there and give the room a good sprinkle. This time, seeing as no one was in the house, I tried burning some juniper, too - I couldn't do too much to get a good smoke going and fill the house, but I have to say the bit of smoke I did generate certainly has a powerful quality to it.

Tom was the first to come back, dashing in to go to the loo (and having to do battle with his costume first). Mr Seren and Rosie arrived not long after, Rosie sporting the manic grin of the happily E-numbered and well-sugared. They had been very successful on their tour of the street, with lots of generous treats from neighbours - it was a fairly quiet night compared to some years previous, but I know a lot of the kids' classmates had also been laid low by the bug that we'd had, too, so like us I think folks had a bit more to hand out to those that did turn up. Mr Seren said the kids did well with their entertaining; at the first couple of houses they were pretty much bricking it and Rosie didn't get much further than the first couple of lines from Twinkle Twinkle Chocolate Bar before trailing off into the Shy Mumble, but by the fifth house or so Tom had already fired into a festive cupcake and had to be held back by Mr Seren before he ended up spraying crumbs over whoever answered the door while Tom tried to do his joke through a mouthful of cake. I'd thought about going out with them, but I'd had such a busy day already I didn't want to over do things - my back is doing a whole lot better but I'm still being a little cautious.

After the kids were back we all gathered in the kitchen to share out the sweets (and a good number of apples and nuts, too), then it was time for homework while the last of the guisers knocked at the door, and then it was bedtime. For once, I didn't have to take the lanterns away from the window because the sweets had run out.

Seeing as I'd already done my ritualling before the kids went to bed I had the opportunity to spend a quiet, candle-lit evening in contemplation and just relaxing. Of course for Samhainn there's a big focus on the ancestors and I had a candle up in the window and invited them to come for a visit if they so wished. I had food out for them, and made offerings to them, and I spoke to them and drank a toast to their memory. And the same to the spirits too, with offerings of peace.

I made offerings to the Cailleach and an owl (the cailleach-oidhche in Gàidhlig) struck up a thoughtful song in the woods nearby. I made offerings to my ancestral deities and a crow cawed off in the distance. I thought back on the year and gave thanks for all the good things that have happened, and thought about the maybe not so good things too. I prayed for blessings, for my family and friends. And I looked up at the stars and out into the night and I listened for a while, and breathed in the cold, slightly smokey air, and that night I slept like the dead, and if I dreamed I've no idea what it was.

At the weekend we went to the beach and I made my offerings to the river and the sea. On Monday night - Bonfire Night, here - the fireworks filled the sky, and as the air was heavy with smoke I chopped up the pumpkin lanterns and buried pieces of them at four points around the outside of the house. I can't beat the bounds around the house with a flaming torch but I can reinforce the boundaries in my own way. We didn't manage to get to a fireworks show (they were at the weekend and we didn't realise, but the local event was Disney-themed anyway, so it was probably for the best - we don't do Disney in this house), but one of our neighbours always has a display in his back garden so the kids didn't miss out. Poor Mungo practically had a nervous breakdown, though, wrapped in a towel and cowering beneath Mr Seren's desk. Our older dog doesn't mind them (plus he's basically deaf now) but Mungo can't stand fireworks.

So that was Samhainn. Not quite how I'd planned but it all came together in the end, I think.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

An Cailleach Bheara

A post on Samhainn will follow shortly, but in the meantime I just wanted to bring a beautiful short film to your attention.

I can't embed the video here, it seems, but follow this link to watch it - it's only eight minutes long and the visuals are quite beautiful. The film references a few traditional stories about An Cailleach Bheara, although it concentrates on one in particular; I found this ages ago and meant to post it, but lost the link and it's only now I've found it - in good time for the season, perhaps!

Anyway, if you haven't seen it already, enjoy.