Archives for posts with tag: Halloween

pumpkin tableWith Halloween approaching, we thought it would be fun to have a pumpkin-carving party. Thirteen Chinese students came to our house, where I had carefully covered our dining room table with newspaper and gathered a collection of paring knives and big spoons. Luckily they brought a few knives of their own, as well as a nice assortment of pumpkins.

There isn’t a tradition of Halloween in China, so I tried to explain the origins of this pagan festival. I think it began in Ireland hundreds of years ago, when people celebrated the Celtic festival of Samhain. This was long before electric lights, so as winter approached at the end of October only fires could fend off the cold and dark. On the last night of October the Celts believed that the souls of the dead could join the living, and to keep these spirits happy they left food and drink for them outside their houses. There was feasting and celebration, and to avoid being tricked by the mischievous spirits, people disguised themselves in masks and costumes when they went out after dark.

It wasn’t until the 20th century, when Irish immigrants who had settled in America began reviving this autumn festival, that the Halloween we know today began to develop. In time, Halloween became a big part of all North American children’s childhoods (including my own!) I remember dressing up to go out “trick-or-treating” and coming home to count the hoard of sweets I had collected. When we moved to England in 1971 I was very disappointed to discover on October 31st that Halloween was quite unheard of there!

Now, over forty years later, Halloween has really taken off in the UK thanks to its huge popularity in North America. Witches and vampires and black cats are everywhere, and costume shops are doing a roaring trade just now! The supermarkets are heaving with pumpkins, although apparently it’s been a bad crop in England this year, thanks to too much rain. Here in Scotland we have plenty, and so we got carving!

pumpkin guttingThe first step in carving a pumpkin is to cut a hole in the top to make a lid. The stem of the pumpkin makes a perfect handle, and if you cut an irregular-shaped opening it will be easier to fit the lid back on. Star shapes were very popular with our Chinese guests, so this pumpkin has a nice star lid. It’s important to cut the lid on a slight angle towards the stem. That way the lid will sit on the top rather than falling into the hole. Next you have to dig out all the “guts” which is a messy, slimy business! Make sure you have lots of newspaper underneath before you start.

pumpkin gutsIf you want to, it’s possible to separate and wash the pumpkin seeds and toast them in the oven. The familiar green pumpkin seeds you can get in the supermarket are inside those white husks. For a recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds, click HERE.

tiger face 1The next step is to draw your pumpkin’s face with a pencil. Choose the smoothest, cleanest side to work on. The pumpkin above was getting a tiger face, including whiskers and a Chinese symbol on its forehead meaning “king of the world”!

tiger face 2You can see this tiger pumpkin is coming along nicely. Other students consulted their iPhones for ideas on what sort of face to carve. There were some amazing results, like this very toothy character:

toothy pumpkinHere is another one with a starry-eyed grin:

big pumpkinWhen all the pumpkins were finished, we got out the little tea light candles and turned out the lights. Having a box of very long matches is crucial, as the only way to light the candle inside is to reach in through the mouth. It was a challenge, but we got them all lit, with dramatic results!

jackolanternsAnd here is the tiger, burning bright!

tiger burningHappy Halloween, everyone!

toothy grins

Hallowe’en is upon us and there are lots of exciting and spooky things happening in dark and shadowy castles across the land.

If you live in Scotland, click on the Visit Scotland website to see a full listing of all the ghost trails, pumpkin festivals and other Halloween events planned across the land.

If you live in England, there are all sorts of ghoulish goings-on, thanks to English Heritage. This year Halloween falls in the school half-term holiday, so there are lots of activities organised for families. Brave the Tunnel of Terror at Dover Castle, or have a creepy family sleepover at Kenilworth Castle. Click on the English Heritage link above to see a full list of all the events with times and prices.

Maybe you’re planning a family Hallowe’en party of your own. Have you decided what kind of costume you will wear this year? Last year my son wore a giant banana costume, and this year he is going to wear a big, hairy wig and beard to be… a big, hairy bearded guy.

When I was growing up in Canada, the last day in October was usually freezing, and we used to go around the neighbourhood trick-or-treating in the snow! That meant our costumes had to be warm. Forget about being a ballerina or a fairy. You were much better going as a ghost, with a big sheet over you and lots of thick clothes underneath! Or a mummy wrapped in lots and lots of bandages!

Here are some Halloween goodies that I thought looked gruesome and tasty:

These are called Apple Bites, with teeth made of sliced almonds!

Don’t these Carrot Fingers look real? I’m sure they’d make me jump!

These are called Night of the Living Bread (as they’re made with pita pockets).

And I love this Hairy Daddy Longlegs!