October is my favourite month of the year and Oíche Shamhna is my second favourite celebration of the year.
I love the colours of October, and this year we have been spoiled with a beautiful autumn of golds, coppers and reds. Happily, the past few weekends have been decent enough to let us get out into it without battling the elements too much. Crunching through fallen leaves is the best feeling, with cozyfires rewarding walks that make us a little chilly rather than freezing cold.
But it all ends up in the same place. The clocks going backwards and the dark evenings and a night of spooks and ghouls. The houses up our way are decked out spectacularly, with green and orange lights, windows with ghosts and witches peering out and gardens transformed into prisons, spiders’ webs and graveyards. From about 5pm we can expect the door to start being knocked. First come the little tots accompanied by their parents, little bugs, cats, witches and Harry Potters all too shy to remember what to say, and delighted to get little treats. Then come the old hands dressed up from zombie nurses to psycho clowns, they are there for the hard stuff and have the routines to accompany a long–planned visit. And last will come the chancers. The young teenagers who were too cool to dress up but then saw the younger siblings’ stash and decide to give it a lash. A bit of the sister’s make up and a hat passes for a costume, but you can get a laugh from them making them sing for the last of the Chuppa Chups.
Inside the houses the families gather for the craic with lots of food, the bits they fancy from the kids’ trick or treat bags and the pure drop. Growing nieces and nephews trying to figure out how long they have to stay with their aunties and uncles before they can escape to the real deal with their friends. Parents grimace as they know that there is no chance of a taxi so they will have to drive, the pure drop will have to wait.
And all of us talk of how times have changed. How it was “in our day” will consist of lit turnips, coal on our faces, the old plastic masks which had little slits for your eyes, nose and mouth and you got cut sticking your tongue out. There was no trick of treating for me back then, we did with the bag of monkey nuts my mother picked up with the turnip and the apples that bobbed in the sink. Oh and the toffee apple, with its hard caramel deliciously sticking to our teeth so we could only eat a bit at a time.
But the one thing that does not change is the look on the little faces as they watch the sky, because maybe, just maybe, that noise in the wind was a shriek and that cloud was a broomstick. With the cold air catching our breath and the magic of October’s natural splendour being replaced by fireworks in the night sky anything is possible. And we all, no matter our age, whether Halloween traditions are old or new, become small again, loving the scare, the fright and the spooky in this most Irish of nights.