Tiers for Halloween

Me, second from left, in my friend’s garage that would be transformed into a witches’ grotto for Halloween
My boys ready for Halloween In 2005.

It’s Halloween week, and celebrations are going to have to be rather different than normal with the government’s new ‘three-tier’ alert system in place to slow down the second wave of coronavirus infections. There will be no children going from door to door in their ghoulish fancy dress asking for treats, nor hoards of young adults in monstrous make-up crowding into the pubs and clubs for a night of partying, which has been customary in recent years.

There are various names for Halloween, such as Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ Eve, Hallows’ Evening, Allhalloween and All Saints’ Eve and, as my dad mentions in his column from 1st November 1980, it is a Western Christian tradition that marks the night before ‘Hallowmas’ or All Saints’ Day. Following All Saints’ Day comes All Souls’ Day on 2ndNovember, and the three days together were known as Allhallowtide. This was a time for honouring saints and martyrs and also for praying for those who’d recently died whose souls had not yet reached heaven. Relatives of the dead would don masks to disguise themselves from any lost souls en route to the above, for if they saw their loved ones, they might not want to leave. 

My own children could barely contain their excitement as Halloween approached, spending days planning what they would wear, and weighing up how big a receptacle was needed to carry the booty. It’s such a shame that children this year will lose out on the tradition of trick or treating, which for mine was one of the most thrilling of annual celebrations. Having said that, there are plenty of places online offering alternatives for making the weekend special, if somewhat different, for the young ones. 

With three boys, I spent many years treading the trick or treat path around my neighbourhood, and from the time that I began to take my oldest out (2000), until the last year my youngest went out (2014) I noticed how 31st October grew bigger and more extravagant with each passing year. When I first started, my front porch was one of the most highly decorated on my estate, adorned as it was with white sheets, black plastic creepy crawlies and fake spider web. I also replaced the porch light with a red bulb to enhance the creepy atmosphere, and a CD played spooky music in the background. No expense or effort was spared there!

But as the years went on, my small porch was soon overshadowed by far more elaborate and sophisticated creations. It would take me a couple of hours to drag my stuff out of the attic and assemble it. But it became obvious that some neighbours spent days or even weeks preparing full-on Halloween showcases. In fact, my estate became quite well known locally for the amount of effort that went into it, and was the ‘go-to’ destination for many from beyond our immediate surroundings. 

I knew we had hit the trick-or-treat ‘big time’ when, one year, we ran out of sweets half way through the night. I had bought the amount that had been sufficient in previous years, but I wasn’t prepared for the surge in popularity and so raced around the house scouring cupboards and drawers for any long-ignored confectionery lying about (such as unwanted strawberry and coconut chocolates left at the bottoms of sweet tins). 

When this feeble emergency supply was also exhausted, then it was a race to blow out the pumpkin candle, turn all the lights off and shut the curtains to make it look like we were not in before the next trick or treater turned up. There’s nothing worse than having to look into the face of an expectant child on Halloween and have to tell them you’ve run out of sweets. 

Some of my neighbours really went to town, including a close friend who, after a few hard years of treading the Halloween beat with her four youngsters, decided instead to transform her garage into a full-blown witches’ grotto. She’d have tricks and scares a plenty hidden on the drive and among the decorations, and she awarded herself virtual points for the loudest screams she could elicit from the nervous youngsters who dared approach.

Thankfully, she also had some mulled wine on the go for the adults, so usually, while the kids gorged themselves on confectionary, we’d end up in her garage to enjoy a very happy Halloween. 

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 30th October and the Gazette & Herald on 28th October 2020

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