Sunday, 3 October 2010

Samhainn preamble

Debate rages in the Seren household...Figuratively speaking.

First of all, there are lots of pretty, shiny and sparkly outfits lining the aisles of the supermarket marked 'seasonal', prompting Rosie to look at all the beautiful things and marvel at what her next dressing-up outift might be. The general consensus seems to be that she doesn't care, so long as it's shiny, sparkly, pretty, and comes with a broomstick. A hat would be good too, if it's pointy. Coincidentally, Nana has already bought her a witches' outfit (or two...depending on size, y'see), so we should be good for that. A broomstick shouldn't be hard to come by, and with enough glue and sparkly shite, we'll be set as far as Rosie's concerned.

Tom's quite set on dressing up as a 'skellington' again, as he did last year, but might be swayed to go as a Power Ranger now, after Nana passed on a birthday present that never got given in the end. Two years later, it's probably safe to say that the intended child has moved on from that stage in their life, and now Tom is more than happy to benefit. Tom has no idea what a Power Ranger is, really, but if it comes with a cool helmet that lights up, and a phone that flips out, it's all good as far as he's concerned. We're now into the realm of 'my friends will really like this', so he's a bit keener on the idea of dressing up than he used to be. And it's not Transformers, so that makes a refreshing change, personally speaking.

But all this commercialism has prompted a few questions - from Rosie, mainly - about what Hallowe'en's all about, really. These questions are mainly concerned with whether or not there'll be cake and/or sweeties involved, as well as sparkly outfits, and so far she's not been disappointed. But my explanations of things have sparked debate with Mr Seren, mainly because I told the kids (amongst other things) that they should dress up on Hallowe'en because lots of ghosties and fairies will be about, looking to cause mischief, and they need to blend in to make sure they don't get caught up in said mischief. This is called 'guising' I said, because you dress up in 'disguise'.

Ah, says Mr Seren. That's nothing to do with Hallowe'en, that's Bonfire Night - Guy Fawkes' Night. Because kids make an effigy of Guy Fawkes and go round asking for a 'penny for the Guy' - hence, 'Guy-sing'. Ah, but no, I said. Because guising is also found at New Year's/Hogmanay, which has a lot in common with Hallowe'en/Samhainn, and you also dress up in disguise. It's to do with Hallowe'en primarily, but quite a few of the customs have become conflated with Bonfire Night and Hogmanay in some ways. And it's spawned a lot of Hallowe'en customs that are seen as 'American', like trick or treating - originally you'd go round in your disguise and perform a skit, sing a song, or maybe tell a joke, for a donation, and if you weren't satisfied you'd play a trick on the household who offended you, but you'd do it anonymously. The disguise helped. Or they'd be targeted anyway, if they were just unpopular in the neighbourhood. But the main focus was that if you were stingy and inhospitable, you'd get yours. It was surreptitious, not blatant like it is today. Mr Seren comes from a time when kids still had to beg their bit, pre-trick-or-treating, and sees the modern take of trick or treating as an erosion of tradition. Erosion, or continuum? I ask. I'll have to think about that..., is the reply.

But in general, Mr Seren wasn't convinced with it all, so brought it up at dinner with the in-laws today. There was general agreement that yes, it was more to do with Bonfire Night these days, but in the good old days it was different. Maybe, in a half-remembered way...

My brother-in-law mentioned that Hallowe'en, for him, was the night of 'Going out in the galoshes', which rang a bell for Mr Seren, something he'd forgotten. Although he didn't remember actually going out in galoshes (a kind of wellington boot - probably quite plausible given the weather in these parts, at that time of year), it referred to the dressing up for Hallowe'en in general, and going out and performing for treats. And then trying to steal turnips from the farmer, who was well prepared for the occasion and turned a blind eye, really, so long as you didn't take the piss.

I mentioned that the 'galoshes' put me in mind of the mummers' play, The Goloshan, which was a Hogmanay tradition and also required dressing for the occasion as well. We're both intrigued by the possible connection, but Google has made me none the wiser, so far...

So there's that, our wee debate. Then there's the question of what the kids will be doing at Hallowe'en, seeing as it's a Sunday (possibly going to a Hallowe'en party at a friend's, then); along with our own traditions that we're building. Because it's something that's embraced more generally - by supermarkets, that is - there's more of a build-up for the kids than most of our festivals and they're more interested in it now that they're older and more aware of things. Tom remembers the tumshie lanterns and pumpkin from last year, but Rosie not so much. She just knows it's kind of exciting. I've told them that people will be coming to the door asking for sweeties, and we'll have to carve the lanterns to scare the ghosties away, and they seem quite enamoured by the idea. Also, that we'll have a proper good dinner with dessert and more sweeties...

Children; easily pleased. Me; quite chuffed at the kids being enthused.