Sunday, November 1, 2009

Turnip Lanterns

Well, after writing a post with the heading "Nearly Halloween" I guess I need to make a mention of the day itself.

Here at home on Australian Central Summer Time we have already reached All Saints Day (or All Hallows Day) - November 1st - let's say for the moment that it is still October 31st, that is, the eve of all saints, or Hallow E'en. The abbreviation e'en for even(ing) was still current in Scotland in many districts during my 1940s boyhood. You'll see it in lyrics of the old songs.

Girls and boys of all ages, in groups, would go around to friends' and neighbours' homes - even, if bold, to strangers' houses - more or less in disguise. It was called "guising". They were expected to perform some song or poem or performance and be rewarded by small gifts - say, sweets or biscuits or coins.

This seems rather distinct from the "trick or treat" travesty of the related tradition as it continues in the United States. However, the latter (a form of blackmail by stand-over tactics) at least captures a dark side of the ancient belief: mischief-making spirits may require appeasing on the night before the influence of All Saints sends them packing, for the time being.

My strongest memory is the smell of burnt turnip (swede). We would not dream of going guising without a home-made turnip lantern, hollowed out, carry-string attached, lit candle inside and the walls cut through in patterns (such as stars and crescent moon) or perhaps a scary face. Very effective. Very smelly. Unforgettable.

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