Here in Northumberland, it feels like half term has been going on for the best part of a month! The steady stream of families visiting the county from other regions underlines the fact that in some parts of Scotland, half term began in mid-October; in many parts of England, it was on the 22nd; but in Northumberland, it starts on the 29th. Luckily for our schoolchildren, this late holiday also coincides with Halloween.
Halloween (or Hallowe’en) is said to have Celtic Pagan roots. The festival, as we know it today, has been celebrated since the 18th century and is Christian in origin, marking the Eve of All Saints (or All Hallows’) Day. But its beginnings go back much further than that. It’s widely thought that the Celtic-Gaelic festival of Samhain was Christianised by the early church and turned into All Hallows’ Eve.
Samhain – pronounced “Sow-In” – was celebrated from 31st October to 1st November. The word itself is Irish-Gaelic for “summer’s end”. In other words, it means the end of harvest and the start of darker winter months. Many Halloween celebrations today seem to stem from those early Celtic harvest traditions, including apple bobbing, nut roasting and the carving of jack-o-lanterns from turnips (later, pumpkins), to ward off evil spirits.
Halloween – a time for Trick or Treating
As Christianity took hold in medieval Britain, a practice called ‘souling’ developed. The poor would visit the houses of the rich to be given small round cakes (‘soul cakes’) in exchange for saying prayers for the souls of the dead.
In Ireland and Scotland, a tradition grew up where young folks would visit neighbours’ houses to sing a song, recite a poem or perform a ‘trick’ in return for ‘treats’ of fruit or coins. It is thought to be based on a medieval practice known as ‘mumming’, when people would go house-to-house in disguise, reciting verses or songs in exchange for food.
This later became known as ‘guising’, and eventually made its way across to North America in the late 19th century via Irish and Scottish immigrants. Throughout the 20th century, the custom gained popularity as ‘trick or treating’ and eventually came back full circle to the UK in the 1980s.
Three suggestions for some family fun
Will you or your little ones be ‘trick or treating’ next week? Will they be dressing up and going to some costume parties for a game of apple bobbing, or to hear some scary stories? There are always plenty of places to go for some seasonal fun and local attractions are gearing up for the festivities too. Here are three of our favourites for you:
Visit Woodhorn Musuem, near Ashington between Sat 27th October and Sun 4th November and follow their Pumpkin Trail. Kids can pick up a trail sheet from the main desk, find all the pumpkins hiding in shadowy corners of the museum, head back with a completed sheet and get a small treat as a reward. https://museumsnorthumberland.org.uk/whats-on/pumpkin-trail/
Or maybe they’d prefer a bit of a fright on Wed 31st October, when professional storyteller Stephen Skelton tells some spine-tingling tales and ghost stories, based on the spooky experiences of visitors and staff at the atmospheric site. Hear all about “the mysterious ‘man in a leather apron’ lurking in the Coal Town exhibition, troublesome ‘Jack’ causing mischief in Winding House 1, and all manner of strange sights & sounds experienced after darkness falls.” https://museumsnorthumberland.org.uk/whats-on/ghost-stories-of-woodhorn-museum/
The Alnwick Garden
If you and the kids are still feeling brave, you could also try a visit to The Alnwick Garden over Halloween week. They claim it will be “spookier, scarier and more blood curdling than your wildest dreams could even imagine”. There are plenty of events to enjoy, from “The Spook Zone” and “The Spooky Trail” to “The Twilight Scare Garden”… all of which are designed to take families around The Garden in search of scary creatures, tombs and skeletons. You have been warned! https://www.alnwickgarden.com/events/
Morpeth Rugby Club Bonfire Night & Fireworks Display
Hard on the heels of “All Hallows’ Eve” comes Bonfire Night, when we celebrate the scuppering of Guy Fawkes’ plans to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. These days, thankfully, it’s rather less about high explosives, more about lowly Jumping Jacks, Roman Candles and Sparklers, with a few show-stopping Catherine Wheels and Rockets thrown in for good measure.
If you’re staying at one of the lodges or log cabins at Felmoor Park or Bockenfield Country Park on Sunday 4th November, you might want to think about attending the Bonfire Night & Fireworks Display at Morpeth Rugby Club, just 9 miles away. This annual event is always good value and a great treat for the kids! Gates open at 5 pm and the bonfire is lit at 6 pm. Admission is £5 per person (or £3 for under 12s).
If you are planning a break in the region over the next seven days, you can certainly look forward to a variety of events and celebrations, coupled with all the usual seasonal fun, mischief and mayhem! And if you should happen to find yourself apple bobbing, carving pumpkins or trick or treating over the holiday, well, now you know how it all began. Whatever you do and however you celebrate, though, always keep your pets indoors and stay safe near fireworks.
by Terri Harper, 26/10/18