Halloween is the current incarnation of a very old holiday. Over the centuries the customs involved have changed.I am not a big fan of the modern version, to be frank. Encouraging children to engage in an orgy of sugar consumption does not seem like a good thing to me. Then in a vain attempt to restore some control, offices and other workplaces are flooded with hijacked candy by parents whose children have really had too much. It then becomes a temptation for stressed adults as well. For me, there are traditions and activities that are more enjoyable and more healthy. In the past the occasion was celebrated with family or community parties with games like bobbing for apples and hide and seek. There was often a round of telling ghost stories or fortune telling activities.
I will not be attending a party but will be home with the cats. I think all cats should be indoors on Halloween, not just black ones. Too many strangers about and noises and activities of the sort upsetting to cats to make it a good night to be out. I am hoping I will get to the orchard so I can have fresh cider and plenty of apples to make into caramel apples (just a few) and while I will not bob I would like to try making Lamb’s Wool, a tradition punch made from hot spiced ale and baked apples whose froth and foam give the name. I will make a nice fire in the fireplace and read aloud to the cats in lieu of a human audience. We always read a version of the Japanese folk tale “The Boy Who Painted” cats, one of my favorite stories whether the topic is things Japaneses, cats, or spooky stories. If you are a cat lover and don’t know this story you are in for a treat. I don’t want to spoil it, so I will only say the boy’s connection with the cats he paints saves him and it has a happy ending.
In doing some research I found the Robert Burns poem “Halloween”. It is in Scottish dialect, rather difficult to read and not the best of Burns by any means, but it inspired me to read some poetry to the cats too. They actually like to be read to and do like poetry. I think it might be they like the rhythms of speech in poetry. Once I made this decision I was amazed by the number of poems linked to Halloween. Some merely touch on unnatural things but most directly address some aspect of the day.
I grew up with reading and story telling thanks to my grandparents. Even though they had television it was never on when I was there. My grandmother would listen to the radio when we worked together in the kitchen, she had found a station re-broadcasting old shows and we listened to “Lights Out”, “Inner Sanctum” and “The Shadow”, all the spooky shows. The books they had for me to read were things like East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Mythology of All Nations. They read aloud or told stories to me at night from these books and I can tell you they were not the “kiddie”versions. Trolls in those stories were not like little dolls, So reading and reciting spooky stuff on Halloween seems not only appropriate but honors my grandparents and all those generations before them as well.
Edward Scriven’s engraving of John Masey Wright’s illustration to Robert Burns’ Halloween
I have listed some of the poems with links for those who might be interested. Don’t get soaked and sticky bobbing for apples. Duck in here for a nice dry and spooky poem instead.
“Low Barometer” by Robert Bridges
The south-wind strengthens to a gale …
“Halloween” by Robert Burns
Upon that night, when fairies light …
“The Giaour [Unquenched, unquenchable]” by George Gordon Byron
… Unquenched, unquenchable …
“Hallowe’en Charm” by Arthur Guiterman
Fern seed, hemp seed, water of the well …
“Hallow-E’en, 1914” by Winifred M. Letts
“Why do you wait at your door, woman …
“Haunted Houses” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
All houses wherein men have lived and died …
“All Hallows Night” by Lizette Woodworth Reese
Two things I did on Hallows Night:—
“Theme in Yellow” by Carl Sandburg
I spot the hills …
“ Mr. Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern” by David McCord
Mr. Macklin takes his knife
“The Hag” By Robert Herrick
The hag is astride, this night for to ride;
“Dirge” by Thomas Lovell Beddoes
We do lie beneath the grass …
“Samhain” by Annie Finch
In the season leaves should love,
“All Hallows” by Louise Glück
Even now this landscape is assembling.
“A Rhyme for Halloween” by Maurice Kilwein Guevera
Tonight I light the candles of my eyes in the lee