Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Oìdhche Shamhna

Oìdhche Shamhna mhath dhuibh!

I hope you had a good one. Or will do, whenever you celebrate.

I know a lot of folks in the more northerly climes across the Pond have had a lot of snow over the weekend and might even still be cut off from phones and power right now; I'm hoping everybody stays warm and safe. Here we've not even had a first frost yet, but there's been some early snow on the peaks across the sea over in Argyll so winter is well and truly on its way. We're still getting a relatively warm and damp south-westerly for the most part, but there's definitely a bite in the air too now.

The geese are all gone and the crows and the rooks and the magpies have been noisily heralding the turning of the season for the past week or so, and have also been demanding their due out in the garden. Considering the fact that we have kids and Hallowe'en is such a big thing round here, I like to keep the day tied with Samhainn for the fun and festive feel with everyone in the village joining in too, rather than waiting for the first frost or whatever. There have been plenty of signs that it's time, anyway, and for the past week or so the kids have been asking about family and all the people who've died that they never met; grandparents and great-grandparents, what they were like and what they looked like. It's a neat and timely bit of synchronicity, and I've spent a lot of time digging out old photos to show them and talk about the people who came before us, who are responsible for our being here today.

So I've been busily preparing and looking forward to it all. In particular I'd been looking forward to the guisers arriving on our doorstep and performing their bit in exchange for their treats - it's always fun and gives a sense of community - and I made sure I bought plenty of treats to hand out this time. The past Hallowe'ens we've had in this house, in this part of Scotland on the west coast, we've always run out of treats and have had to make a mad dash to get more. But this year the night was pretty much a total washout. Hardly anyone braved the incessant rain, it seems, and so I have two large tins of sweeties left over. One of our neighbours just dropped off a bag of sweets for the kids this morning so it seems everyone's in the same boat here. We actually decided not to take the kids out guising just yet. They were up at 6am yesterday morning, and I think it would've been too much for Rosie in particular. There would've been wailing in the end. But with all the sweets left, the kids aren't complaining either way...

Things didn't go entirely to plan this year; usually I have a kind of three part celebration over the course of three days, from the 30th October to the 1st November. We do our seasonal pictures, and each day tends to have a different main focus - on the spirits, then the gods, then the ancestors...Usually, on the first day I carve the tumshies to kick things off, but things didn't quite work out according to plan this time round.

On Sunday we decorated the house with all of the decorations that we'd made, spooky ghosts made out of tissues, our skellington (Frank) taking guard at the front door, our tasteful flashing skulls and ghosts and spider up on the mantlepiece, with the even more tasteful decorations given to us by my mother-in-law last year:

And some decorations made out of orange, purple and black felt, that I cut out using cookie cutters as a template (we used the cutters to make some spooky gingerbread, but they didn't exactly keep their shape well once they went in the oven...ah well. Still tasty). There were bats and cats and more ghosts, but I think the bats are my favourite:

And we put some up in the living room, and the rest around my 'hearth shrine' in the kitchen. We did our seasonal pictures:

They're supposed to be fireworks, honest! Last year we did snowmen as our wintery theme, and ended up getting snowed in for five days...So yeah...This time I suggested a different direction, and the kids decided it was a good one (any excuse for glitter). We've covered the weather and snowy, flowery, leafy pictures and all that kind of stuff by now, so I thought we could do fireworks this time. We talked about how it was going to be a lot darker now, earlier and longer, but that meant that there would be fireworks! There's Guy Fawkes' night on Saturday (and one of the local events is apparently tying it in with a day of cultural events and storytelling etc; hopefully we'll make it there), and Hogmanay usually has fireworks too. So in all the darkness, we'll be having lots of things to celebrate. When I was a kid, every Guy Fawke's night we'd have fireworks in the back garden, and our grandparents would come over, and mum would hand out hot tomato soup in mugs to keep us warm. One of my happier childhood memories, so I promised the kids we'd do that too (the soup, that is, if not the fireworks in the garden).

Sunday afternoon we spent at the in-laws to show off Tom and Rosie's costumes, and after lots of excitement and showing off, two tired children were pretty much ready for bed. The clocks had gone back an hour for winter - very apt timing - so the kids hadn't adjusted yet and technically it was well past bedtime for them already. Just as we were leaving, fireworks started going off somewhere on the street. "Fireworks!" screamed Tom. "Mummy, the fireworks must be thanking us for doing our pictures!"

Well I do hope so.

I hadn't been able to get any shopping in, so once we got home and got the kids to bed I tried to get some turnips from the local shop, but the only ones they had were too small and mouldy to boot. So there was no carving on Sunday night. Yesterday was therefore a very busy day.

I'd promised Rosie some pumpkin soup, because she'd had some at nursery as part of their week of festive activities, and she loved it. Far be it from me to deny the kids vegetables, so I said we'd get a pumpkin for carving and make soup from the innards. Alas, the weekly shopping I'd ordered arrived without a pumpkin, and with two pathetically small tumshies. It's easier for me to order in these days, but it's a real pain in the arse when you're at the mercy of other people picking out your food sometimes. Luckily Mr Seren had to go into town anyway, so he was sent on a mission for a pumpkin and he ran here there and everywhere trying to succeed.

Alas, he returned without a pumpkin, but he did manage to procure two of the biggest turnips I've ever seen so all in all it wasn't a disaster. He stopped in at a grocers on his quest, and the grocer said with a resigned sigh, as soon as Mr Seren walked in, "We're out of pumpkins, but I've got huge tumshies." (Lucky you, sir).

I'd already started on one of the small tumshies and hadn't planned on doing as many as three of the buggers (let alone to giants), to spare my poor aching back, but waste not want not, right? You can see the size difference from the one I got from the supermarket compared to one of the ones Mr Seren got, in the photo at the top of this post. I'm proud to say I managed to carve them all with all limbs intact, and only one blister. I did some smaller white turnip lanterns too, and they went on my shelf in the kitchen.

The school makes a big deal out of Hallowe'en, so the kids went in costume and all the parents were invited to attend a parade. Tom decided to go as Optimus Prime and Rosie decided to go as a pirate; she already had the costume and my mother-in-law sorted Tom's costume out, so we got Rosie some extra bits and pieces to compliment the ensemble and we made a telescope for it, out of a tube, some felt, gold paper, and decorated with pirate treasure and gems. I managed to persuade her to wear some spooky face paints to complete the look (Tom really isn't fussed with dressing up at all, so he wasn't interested), and so we had:

Tom was happily in character, but I think Rosie was getting a bit self-conscious about people looking at her at this point; like me, she's confident and outgoing amongst people she knows, but otherwise she's shy and she doesn't like a lot of attention. In the end, she didn't want to join in with her class at the parade, but Tom happily paraded:

Yes, there he is next to the not at all offensive 'Indian Chief'.

Sooooo anyway. After school I got the dinner on, finished the tumshies, and we got on with the games. There was the obligatory dookin':

I totally failed at that. After trying with our mouths, we had a go using forks (trying to spear the apples, effectively - that's how they do it at the school, too), and then Mr Seren was set in charge of the rest of the games while I got on with the rest of dinner. They played musical statues, musical bumps, 'hot chocolate', hide and seek, and steal the sock (steal daddy's sock, that is), and I was glad that it wasn't my eardrums that weren't being almost pierced by the shrieking and squealing. I think it's safe to say they had a good time.

After dinner (beef stew and mash, followed by cranachan and oaty crumblies) we had the guisers start trickling along. Mungo, our youngest and incredibly neurotic dog, had been looking worried all day long because not only had I cleaned the house, everybody was all excited. Something was happening, but whether or not it was a good thing he wasn't too sure. Once people started arriving, he decided that things were actually OK; lots of children to sniff and get fuss from. All good. Although it would've been better if people had shared their goodies. Especially the kids who turned up with hot dogs (given to them by a house further down the road from us).

Eventually we had to get the kids to bed, and two very satisfied children promptly fell unconscious within approximately three seconds in spite of their insistence that they weren't tired. Honest. And that left me to my devotions for the night, along with offerings, charms, saining, and a little time to myself just to think and be and listen to the rain and what it had to say. I'd overdone things a little by this point and was in quite a bit of pain, so I didn't spend as long as I would've liked (but I still have tonight to finish things off, at least). I needed a good sit down and time to decompress before leaving some food out over night, and one more offering and then bed.

After Tom finishes school today we're going to make a fat cake for the birds out of suet and seeds, and we'll leave that out as our final offering in honour of Mr Seren's gran, and Rosie's namesake. I never met her myself, and we don't have any photos to look at, but feeding the birds is one thing Mr Seren associates with her in particular and I figured we could honour her that way, make it a family tradition for us too. She fed the birds every day and whenever Mr Seren asked why, she'd say it's because the little birds can talk to the angels and if you look after them and listen carefully they'll whisper to you and help you find lost things. Some bird food seems apt as a final way to welcome in the winter, as well, to round things off; we're being told it's going to be another cold one this year, so experts are encouraging people to make sure they leave food out for the smaller birds in particular. So we'll start as we mean to go on.