Australians dominate my work, my home and probably Banff itself. Just as they revelled in the novelty of Thanksgiving, so too have they embraced Halloween. Talk began in September about costumes and from the moment we all moved into our accommodation, October 31st was earmarked as Party Night.
I was raised with Halloween. November 1st was All Saints Day and November 2nd All Souls Day and so October 31st was the night that the lost souls who needed our prayers rose from the dead and went wandering. In Irish, it is called Samhaín, or translated literally, summer’s end, a time to be grateful for the harvest and to prepare for the winter ahead. In my home, it meant food, games and dressing-up.
Early on the day, my mother pulled the table close to the kitchen work top and supervised her team of daughters in making apple tarts. Usually the dough was left to her, or the more responsible, the peeling, chopping and placing of the apples left to us minor minions. At some point, someone would forget to add the half cup of sugar. My mother would complain about the juices running out of the tarts and ruining the oven. Last year, her eldest Granchild joined the Assembly Line, an historic moment. After dark the fun began. Our costumes were home made, from old clothes fossilising in the attic., our faces painted with children’s paints and bathroom toiletries. Our games were simple, and looking back, probably unhygienic. We tried to bite an apple swinging on a string from the ceiling with our hands behind our backs. We took it in turns to get money out of the basin with our mouths. It didn’t take long for the nut remnants and bits of apple from our mouths to float on the water. Nuts, fruits and sweets galore. When I was very young I watched with envy my older sister dressing up and going out “mummering”, singing and reciting in return for a coins and a few lucky notes. A few years later, she and her friend taught us the songs and we took over, and so on, until now it is my nieces and nephews who are dressing up and heading out to scare the neighbours. Our evening usually ended with Blind Man’s Buff.
Here, where I am surrounded by fellow travellers, it was us doing the dressing up. We ranged from forest nymphs to Lady Gaga and frightening Mummies to sexy vampires. There was also a nudist on strike. We had little cooking but plenty of candy. I haven’t seen one Apple Tart, and somehow, knowing I couldn’t make it as well as my Mum has put me off even trying. We had candy for the passing children who are rewarded for a simple “Trick or Treat”, and I think on my niece who at just 4 can belt out a song for her treats. I learned that nobody can drink as well as the Irish, what a POM is and what it stands for and that sometimes just getting into the thick of things is the best policy.
Most of all though the night was about people far from home enjoying time in each other’s company, a night to play and laugh and be something different to the usual. For that I am grateful. At the times when I most miss home, it is nice to see, and help to bring, a little home here.