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I have always disliked fireworks.
It’s the noise I hate the most.
I like the sparkle and the colour and the gentle ones that ‘swoosh’ and make everyone say , “Ohhh !” and ” Ahhhh!”,
But the noisy ones; the bangs and whines that sound as though we are under aerial attack; those I hate.
So while I was growing up ‘Bonfire Night’ or November 5th, was a trial , a day to be endured rather than enjoyed.
When I was very young the fireworks were gentle things. In fact the lighting of the blue touch-paper was probably the most exciting part.
But even then there was danger.
I well remember my father insisting we all stand behind the garden shed, for safety, when yet another firework had failed to light. He would creep carefully towards it, my mother clutching her coat and scarcely daring to breathe , while we peered nervously from our vantage point.
Often the offending squib would suddenly spring to life and crackle and fizz and we would all cover our faces with woolly-mittened hands and hope it didn’t shoot our way.
Even sparklers were much too frightening for me and as I grew older I would run indoors and hide; terrified my hair would catch fire , whilst little children, half my age, ran round waving them and laughing.
Then there were the bonfires . Red hot sparks flying up into the starry night and silly boys running round with lighted sticks . I was a ‘girly’ girl and hated the soot and the smoke in my eyes and the burnt baked potatoes and the sheer brashness of it all.
Everything about Bonfire Night worried me and puzzled me and it still does.
Ah, but Hallowe’en ……… that was more my style !!
My Great Aunt visited the United States and Canada quite often and brought back exciting tales of Hallowe’en celebrations in those countries.
In addition we lived much of my childhood in the North of England and many Hallowe’en traditions were still upheld. And so it was, that our family celebrated All Hallows Eve many years before it became the huge commercial event of today.
About a week before, we carved ‘Jack o’ Lanterns’ out of turnips ……pumpkins not being widely available in 1950/60s Northern England .
The younger children often carved out some larger potatoes and beets too. These were distributed all around the house with candles burning precariously inside to keep away the ‘evil spirits’.
We sometimes held a party on the night itself , inviting all our friends and neighbours. This was great fun and we took part in all the traditional party games .
A waterproof covering would be spread over the carpet and then we would all kneel on the floor around an old tin bath filled with water. We ‘bobbed ‘ for apples, hands behind our backs, faces wet and shiny, plaits dangling into the water , gasping for breath and spluttering and giggling.
We ate toffee apples and cinder toffee and fruit cake. The cake traditionally had charms put in prior to baking and whoever found a ring would certainly marry within the year ! An interesting prospect when you are only 9yrs old !
Apples were peeled in one long , continuous strip . This strip was then thrown over your shoulder and supposed to land in the shape of the first letter of the name of your future spouse.
And , of course, there was the dressing up !
Those of you who know me well will know that anything that involves theatrical costumes will get my vote. I loved to dress up and still do , that was the best part !
From about the age of 8 I always sewed my own costumes.
Starting weeks before Hallowe’en. ………Scrounging bits of cloth; lace; ribbon; anything I could beg from parents and grand-parents. Old velvet cushion covers; lace table-cloths; damask curtains. All were utilised and on the night itself I would appear in my latest creation. Goodness knows what I looked like …………Just think ‘ Vivienne Westwood ‘ and you will get the idea !
Oh, and there were indoor fireworks !
Now these, I liked. No bangs, no sudden shocks or life threatening flames, just gentle little paper things that smouldered slowly to reveal flower shapes or wriggly snakes and little Chinese pagodas. So much more lady-like.
When all the energetic games and eating was over and little Joey had been rescued from the tin bath and given the ‘kiss of life’ and Susie had stopped throwing up after eating almost all the cinder toffee, we all settled down around the log fire for the ghost stories. Tales of haunted houses and walking skeletons and witches on broomsticks.
We were all terrified and listened, wide eyed, sometimes hugging each other for comfort during really scarey bits. An adult would creep up behind the huddled group of children and touch a shoulder or ruffle someones hair and we would all scream in terror and then dissolve into giggles when the joke was revealed .
Then, finally the party ended and our friends went off to their various homes , secretly glancing skyward , to catch a glimpse of a witch flying through the night.
When we were safe in our little beds , each and every one of us pulled the covers over our heads … just in case !
Some Hallowe’en Facts;
In ancient times New Year was celebrated on November 1st.
In 835 AD, the Catholic Church declared November 1st to be All Saints Day. The festival began on All Hallows Eve; October 31st.
Hallows is an archaic word for saint.
Celts believed that evil spirits visited the living during the long dark , winter hours .
They also believed that on All Hallows Eve the barriers between our world and the spirit world were at their weakest and therefore spirits were more likely to be seen.
Bonfires were lit to frighten away these spirits.
People dressed up so that ghosts would not recognise them as living, but rather mistake them for their fellow spirits and so leave them alone.
The Jack o’ Lantern is thought to be named after an Irish fellow named Jack . He had been denied admittance to heaven, because he was a miser . This Jack had played jokes on the Devil; so he was also forbidden to enter hell . He was forced to wander the earth with his lantern until Judgement Day.
I hope you all have a Happy Hallowe’en and don’t encounter any weird, scary spirits , or 9yr old girls in hand stitched costumes !
I’m not sure which would be more frightening !