Hallowe’en in our village seems to have had an identity crisis this year, disguising itself as the season of goodwill. By the time we return from my small daughter’s first venture into trick-or-treating, we are overwhelmed by our neighbours’ generosity. Laura is positively radiant – and not just because of the fluorescent nail polish applied earlier by her best friend’s mum.
“I just LOVE trick-or-treating!” she breathes ecstatically as we trek round the village.
We bump into most of her schoolfriends en route, plus quite a few teenagers, all impressively attired. Not for our village the media stereotype of big kids in half-hearted costumes harassing old ladies. A group of teenage witches welcomes my little black cat to tag along with them at a couple of houses. Some big boys in ambitious costumes, one apparently a wild animal in a tardis-like cage, politely offer her a biscuit. The packet had just been cheerfully dispensed by a man whose greeting was “Sorry, I’ve run out of sweets and I’ve run out of money, but here, have these cookies instead”.
Many adults have gone to as much trouble as the children to get into a spooky mood. They’ve festooned their houses with paper bats and ghosts, they answer the door in costume and character. One kind couple has made up goody bags of assorted chews that includes a set of plastic vampire teeth. “I’ve always wanted one of those!” my daughter squeals with delight. She’ll need new teeth if she’s going to eat her way through tonight’s haul.
Another lady has set up a grisly pick-and-mix in her front porch, chocolate eyeballs and bloody jelly fingers dispensed from dishes proffered by severed hands.
“She’s so kind,” my daughter remarks, slipping her hand into mine as we walk on down the lane. “Someone really ought to give her special treat too.”
At the next stop, we’re invited in for some jokes, a chocolate biscuit and an interesting lesson on the Celtic origins of the Hallowe’en tradition. The adults are clearly having as much fun as the kids.
We head back towards home, looking out for lit pumpkins, the accepted indicator of a household that welcomes trick-or-treaters. We pass by the home of one of the oldest ladies in the village.
“She hasn’t got a pumpkin, but do you think we should call on her anyway? She’s a very kind lady and always smiles and waves to us.”
Laura’s clearly convinced that Hallowe’en is all about generosity of spirit. I shake my head. “No pumpkin, no visit,” I remind her.
But what pumpkins we have seen! Hours of carving must have gone into many of those on display. Their fine fretwork depicted cheery toothy grins with varying degrees of menace, witches on broomsticks, moon-lit landscapes, angry cats arch-backed with vertical fur. How many more ended up as soup following a slip of the knife in these artists’ quests for perfection?
Our own pumpkin, less elaborately carved, gave me a fright the night before. Having nurtured it to a vast size in the garden all summer, we placed it proudly on the front wall in readiness at dusk, only to find it had vanished by the time night fell. I was devastated. How could someone stoop so low as to steal a pumpkin the night before Hallowe’en? What sort of person does that? Someone warming up to pinch our Christmas tree a few weeks later?
My outraged SOS on Facebook triggered a sympathetic search. By mid-morning a kind neighbour has discovered it on his front drive. It’s too far for it to have rolled, so how on earth did it get there? Why did the pumpkin cross the road? I can’t help but wonder. Well, I suppose this ancient festival has had the last laugh. For all the outpouring of generosity in our village, Hallowe’en has still kept a trick up its flowing black sleeve.