Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night
Halloween is almost here, it was never a big part of my childhood in the U.K. However I do remember one of my school friends when I was around ten years old having a party. Most of my friends lived within easy walking distance from my home where we lived in a small English village. I remember my mum walking me over to the party just as it was getting cold and dark which made it so much more exciting. Usually we would be indoors in the warm, getting ready for bed at nightfall.
There were maybe ten of us, mostly girls with just a couple of boys. We played games such as pass the parcel, musical bumps, and Simon says. My favorite was the apple bobbing where we held our hands behind our backs and tried to get an apple out of a bowl of water on the floor using only our teeth, this usually ended up in a soaking for the determined few who managed to claim their prize. Extra towels and sometimes a change of clothing were on hand. Another fun game was trying to eat marshmallows hanging on a string again with our hands behind our backs. Chocolate eating, a real challenge when we had to put on a too large pair of mittens, if we were lucky enough to be able to rip the bar open with them on, the challenge grew greater, we could only use a knife and fork to cut up the chocolate bar and get it into our mouths. This was where the boys excelled, they didn't care about being gentle and taking their time, there were shrieks of excitement as one boy managed to stuff most of the chocolate into his mouth in one go. We worked to a timer, once the bell rang we had to take off our mittens and pass (throw) them at the next child in the circle.
There were no really scary costumes like we see today. Our little group was made up of a collection of witches, wizards, vampires and ghosts, all of the friendly variety. Going home after our fun evening with a large toffee apple and a chocolate bar to enjoy. It was fun skipping home in the dark with just the street lamps for light and everything was so quiet we could hear the owls hooting in the woods nearby. I held my dad's hand chattering constantly telling him all about the party.
While Halloween is not such a big thing in the U.K. Guy Fawkes Night is a huge celebration. We continued the tradition with our boys when we first moved to CT sixteen years ago. We had a bonfire, fireworks, sparklers and lots of "bonfire food" including British baked beans, Lincolnshire sausages and baked potatoes. Our new friends bought dishes to share. Often there were up to eighty people in our back yard and home, sometimes we were lucky with the weather and only once needed to use a rain date due to a hurricane.
Now that my "boys" are no longer at home we still celebrate but with a much smaller number of people, our sparklers this year will be cake sparklers on top of a Guinness cake, which if you make it tastes way better if you make it the day before you want to eat it, it is amazingly moist. The icing is divine and not at all healthy!
As a child we would sometimes have small celebrations in our garden, just us or another family or two. My dad always made a huge bonfire, we would have sparklers and a few fireworks. Often there was a Jack O Lantern hanging from one of our apple trees, pumpkins were not often seen, most lanterns were carved from swedes. Goodness knows how he managed to do that, it's hard enough carving out a pumpkin. Looking at it gave me a thrill, it looked eerie and magical at the same time, a small orange face, glowing in the dark. Potatoes would be wrapped in foil, placed in the embers of the fire to bake. Later that evening they would be unwrapped and eaten from a mittened hand or taken inside to eat depending how cold it was that night.
During the week before Guy Fawkes night on the street corners some of the older boys in the village would have an "Guy" often in an old pushchair or wheelbarrow, along with a jar collecting a "penny for the guy" I don't know if they ever made much money but I guess it was worth a try. My dad was always reluctant to give them money as he told us he had always had to worked hard for his money and not taken any hand outs.
As we grew older we attended larger firework displays. The private school my brothers attended put on a wonderful fireworks display every year with a bonfire so enormous we could feel the heat radiating towards us from several feet away. A spectacular Guy adorned the top of the bonfire, there was always a huge cheer when he was engulfed in flames. It made for a great history lesson, it was a terrible ending if you chose to betray the crown.
I hope that when our "boys" have their own homes and families they continue the tradition even if it's in a small way. It's important to keep some of these moments alive in your memory and pass the stories down.
What traditions do you have around Halloween or Guy Fawkes night? Do you still celebrate? What specific memories do you have?