The run-up to Samhain was so busy I forgot to do a links post for it... You can blame Rosie for that one, mostly.
It's been nearly eight years since we moved into this house and it's only recently that I've learned that the valley we live in officially has its own microclimate – notable enough that sciency types study it and stuff. While everywhere else around us, even just five minutes away, is under a foot or so of snow, some winters we've barely had a frost let alone a hint of a snowflake, that kind of thing. Over the years I've noticed that the seasonal shifts tend towards extremes around here (in comparison with the surrounding area) and they're either very late or very early. In particular, things like fruit ripening on bushes or trees can happen up to a month or more later or earlier than just down the road, so if I were to time our celebrations by the usual markers – things like first frost, first fruits, and so on – then sometimes I'd be celebrating one festival at the same time as another, or with only a week or so apart.
Since that's become clear I've mostly stuck with aiming for the fixed dates (or as close as I can), but at the same time I've been trying to learn the seasonal rhythms of our little valley. Living by the coast there are obvious markers like the storms we get in spring and autumn (and throughout the winter), and there are those things that aren't much different from anywhere else around us – the length of the days and so on. One thing that Tom said recently has stuck with me: He's been looking forward to winter because he gets to see the stars again. He doesn't just mean in the sense that he often has to go to bed before the sun sets during the summer; round here, during the summer months the night sky never gets truly dark, especially at the full moon. Not compared with the winter, anyway, so in the summer months you only get to see a few stars twinkling away up there. When the nights draw in, though, you can make out bands of the milky way (we live far away enough from any cities that we get a good view of the night sky in winter), and it's a very different view. So one thing I've come to view as an indication that winter is on its way is the night sky; when we can see that thick band right above our heads, it's definitely not summer anymore.
For festivals like Samhain, it's hard not to celebrate it on the fixed date anyway, especially since it's so tied up with Hallowe'en. The kids are at that age where Hallowe'en is serious business now, and Rosie (who's always been more keen on playing dress up than Tom has) in particular has taken her costume very seriously this year, so our preparations for Samhain this year have seemed like they've almost been never-ending. She's been so excited about Hallowe'en – wearing her costume to school for the parade, going out guising, bringing home all those SWEETS (dear gods, the sweets) – that she's actually been losing sleep over it. Several times she'd come down and tell me she couldn't sleep because it's just so exciting. In particular, her plans for her costume have been very specific and she just couldn't wait for everyone to see it. And guess who had to make it, eh?
I'll spare you a good chunk of the details, but suffice it to say that at the tender age of eight, Rosie is officially in the grip of But What Will My Friends Say?, along with It's All Wrong And Nobody Understands, GUH. It's not quite as bad as the teenage years yet, but dear gods I could do without the child insisting on the most inappropriate costumes for an eight-year-old, ever (no, Rosie, you will not be wearing an opaque blue body stocking and nothing else). So there was something of a battle over what a certain somebody was going to wear, and of course, at this time of year, that's the most important thing when you're eight. In Rosie's world, at least.
The situation reached crisis levels at one point, mainly because her first idea wasn't possible in the "I'll order you the costume and that's sorted" sense, at least, and every other idea she had wasn't possible (or appropriate, I felt) either. Rosie wanted to be a supervillain – none of your goodies, please (although Madam Vastra from Doctor Who was briefly considered), so we had a limited range to work with, let's say. She was hesitant to have a costume tailor-made in case it turned out badly and she looked silly, but in the end I convinced her to at least let me try. If it did turn out badly, I promised her we'd do something else instead.
So, long story short, I ordered two pairs of leggings – one red, one black – and two tops, also one red/one black, and set about cutting them in half and sewing them together to make a Harley Quinn costume. One of Mr Seren's white t-shirts was sacrificed to make the cuffs and the collar. Rosie's experience of the character is from the Lego Batman game, so she wanted the original jumpsuit version of her costume (and frankly, given the other options/iterations of the character, that was the only version she was going to get), although she conceded that a two-piece version would be more practical than the jumpsuit itself. Thankfully she didn't find the jester-style hat appealing, so I didn't have to make that.
If I do say so myself, it all turned out rather well in the end. We'll ignore the fact that after unpicking the leggings apart to sew the one red and one black leg back together, I ended up sewing two left legs. But never mind.
Tom's costume was easy, he wanted to recycle his Minecraft Steve costume into an Enderman (another character from the game, who throws pumpkins, apparently), although it took a little fixing after rescuing it from the garage, and we had to make a new head. Then disaster struck – the school decided that kids wouldn't be allowed to wear make-up, face paints or masks "in case it scared the little ones." Which is kind of the point, no? Weapons and other kinds of props like wands weren't allowed, either, nor "inappropriate footwear," so Rosie decided that she didn't want to wear her costume for school if she couldn't do the whole thing. Parents and family were no longer invited to the parade, either (hmph).
The kids were both outraged and upset (it was a last minute announcement which made it worse – most of the kids at school had already decided on their costumes and it meant that most of them either couldn't do them properly, or at all because of the new rules). Tom was at least eventually allowed to take his costume in so the teacher could decide if it was too scary to wear for the parade, but all in all it hardly seemed worth the effort. Nana came to the rescue for Rosie and dumped a load of old dance clothes on her, which used to belong to my nieces, so she eventually decided to go as "America" in red, white and blue, with a hastily made statue of Liberty as a pointed comment about her FREEDUMBS, which had been unjustly taken away by the head teacher's arbitrary and illogical decision-making (the kids were allowed masks, weapons and/or face-paints for the evening disco, along with footwear of their choosing, so the ban on "weapons" and such was hardly a safety reason). So for school, this is what we ended up with:
And then for Oidhche Shamhna itself (Hallowe'en) Tom wore his costume again and Rosie did her Harley Quinn costume. Because I'd made it, damn it, and she was gonna wear it:
We got some coloured spray for her hair but it's not very obvious in the photos, but she was very happy with how it turned out in spite of the fact that she hated every second of having her hair sprayed. She's decided she quite fancies having black hair, though.
So the run up to Samhain was mainly taken up with making all of the costumes and props that were needed, and then trying to get the house in order in time for the evening. After spending so much time on making stuff, a good clean and tidy was desperately needed.
The night before our celebrations began I carved the turnips and pumpkins:
And felt pretty pleased with myself because I managed to carve a turnip without ballsing things up
with the knife going accidentally off course, for the first time ever.... There's something satisfying about a hard won carved tumshie. I missed a trick with the pumpkins, though – the cat pumpkin was Rosie's choice, but I could've done the other one to match Tom's Minecraft pumpkin. Oh well.
Decorations were put up and the Saturday went verrrry slooooowly for two excited kids who were forced to tidy their rooms and make their beds. Eventually it came time for them to go guising (or galoshans, as we call it in this neck of the woods) and Mr Seren took them out with the neighbour's kid. I decided to do a beef stew with dumplings for our evening feast because it was something I could mostly leave to its own devices while I was concentrating on fielding guisers, and it's a good wintry meal so it seemed apt.
While the kids were out I set up a bucket of water for the dookin', and lit the whole house by candle-light. The lanterns were put up at the window to let the guisers know they were welcome, and I did some quick devotions to get the evening officially started. We didn't get nearly as many guisers as we usually do – normally the streets would've been full of kids in costumes with a harried parent in tow, but I think maybe because it was a Saturday night a lot of people were at parties instead this year.
The kids came back with a good haul of treats and they set to the dookin' with enthusiasm. The neighbour's kid looked at us as if we had two heads when he realised we were going to actually dunk our faces in the water for the apples, though – he'd only ever done it by trying to spear the apples with a fork. He and Rosie opted for that method, which I think is what they do at school (though they didn't hold it between their teeth like you're supposed to), while Tom did it old style. Unsuccessfully, but doggedly nonetheless:
Eventually, as water began to spread all across the floor and he was no nearer to getting the apple, I told him to use a fork. It took some persuading and he wasn't going to make things easy on himself, though, so he did the teeth method with his fork. And finally won his apple after many, many attempts.
We had dinner as the neighbour's kid was called for his, and then he came back and we carried on our wee party, but as usual all of the excitement of the day saw them tire out pretty quickly. Rosie was barely awake by 9:30pm so it was time for her to shower to get all of the dye and face-paints off.
I'd seriously overdone things and needed a good sit down by that point – I could barely walk – so once the kids were tucked in the rest of the night was pretty low key for me. Before bed I spent some time making some offerings to finish off the evening, chatted with the ancestors (with honourable mention of Eddie and Yoda, the two pets we've lost in the last year – Rosie's convinced Eddie's been around), welcomed in the winter and made prayers of blessing and thanks, and left some food out for any ancestral visitors overnight, and then went to my bed. I slept a deep and dreamless sleep that night.
I was still suffering for my efforts the following day – it was worth it, though – and I decided to stay home while Mr Seren took the kids to the in-laws for the afternoon. The car journey wouldn't have done me any good. That wasn't before Mr Seren and the kids went out to buy a new iPad to replace the one that had finally given up the ghost (har), and they came back with the most tasteful artwork for me, ever:
Which now graces my living room, on the wall above the sofa where I typically sit. It was an apology from the kids, really – they'd got into trouble that morning for not listening to either Mr Seren or me, in spite of dire warnings, and I'd eventually had to go tell them off. Standing up was a little too much at that point and I couldn't help but burst out crying, so that freaked the kids out and made them feel terrible. But I was very touched by their thoughtful gesture.
By the time they came bearing woolly cows I was feeling a lot better, and I managed to sain the house and put the meal I'd left for the ancestors outside as an offering. I still haven't managed to find a satisfactory sort of shelf (or something) to put near the pond, where I can put my offerings out of the way of the dog's reach, so they're still currently going up on the wall on the other side of the patio. I need to figure something out for that.
But we've successfully ushered in the winter here, I think – I hope. As much as I'm not exactly the greatest or most enthusiastic seamstress, I ended up enjoying the opportunity to make both costumes for the kids. It allowed me to do a little extra protection work, too, cutting or sewing or painting deiseil, and sewing in or painting a few protective symbols for them for when they'd be out and about. It did mean that the preparations for our celebrations were a little lengthier than usual, but that in itself provided an opportunity for time to contemplate and meditate on things, and it also seems apt in the sense that winter itself seems to be taking its time in arriving, although the predictions are that it will be a cold and bitter one, once it does.
In spite of the fact that I over did things (physically, at least) I'm glad that for once I managed to do all of the things I wanted to. I chose to push myself. I suppose in a way I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, in spite of my limitations these days. I know, though, that it's not the trappings that are important, as such – doing is all well and good, but it's kind of pointless if you don't have that connection, that communication... But at the same time those trappings help provide a focus, and become devotional acts in themselves, and it's something I wanted to do. In a way, I think it's something I needed this time, too.