The Gaelic festival of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and one of the Samhain activities was making lanterns, often with a carved face, out of turnips. Fairies and spirits were said to be active at the time of Samhain and the purpose of these lanterns was to light one’s way home on Samhain night, represent spirits and other worldly beings or protect yourself and your home from these ghostly creatures. Strange lights seen around peat bogs at this time of the year were often attributed to fairies and spirits and became known as Will-o-the-wisps. Those of you who have seen the movie Brave might remember Merida encountering strange blue lights which guided her at important moments in the film.
Immigrants from Britain and Ireland brought the tradition of carving lanterns to North America. In America, pumpkins replaced turnips, as they were larger and easier to carve. The term Jack-o-lantern is another name for the will-o-the-wisps or strange supernatural lights. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.
But it is of course Halloween with which we now associate those typically monstrous faces lit from within the giant orange pumpkins. Pumpkins are everywhere in Winchester at the moment – on doorsteps, piled up outside the supermarket, artfully decorating the lobby in our new bank – they are even in the coffee. Yes you can order a pumpkin spiced latte at the Espresso cafe in town. Thus far I have desisted!
Because Halloween is celebrated in such a big way here, I feel it is important for us to get stuck in and do all the Halloween things that we can. On our first weekend here we drove out to a little apple farm – aptly named Richard’s – and the girls each selected a pumpkin. (As it was an apple farm we did get some apples too, but as I said before you can’t walk two feet around here without tripping over a pumpkin!) These have been sitting unadorned at our front doorstep until we were ready to attempt the big carve up. Last Saturday was the chosen day…
Despite Hurricane Sandy’s best efforts, our two Jacks didn’t budge an inch last night, so we are feeling very well protected as we head into All Hallows Eve. The girls are beside themselves with excitement and I am worried that I don’t have nearly enough candy-yes I am already using American English! I spoke to someone today who lives not too far away from us and they had three hundred trick or treaters last year!
If you are doing anything to celebrate Halloween, hope you have a good one. I will be back here in the next few days to report on ours. Take care everyone and thanks again for all your love and messages over the past couple of days xxx