When I was little, many decades ago, Hallowe’en was an important day.
It was a chance to break the rules, stay out late, collect a hoard of candy and eat a bunch of it that night. The only catch was coming up with a costume that made sense in chilly Calgary weather at the end of October.
In my day, we went trick-or-treating door-to-door for hours. We carried pillowcases for our “loot”, as we called it, and the weight of that load was usually what made us head home.
We did stay warm. I remember one year being a Martian because I had a green winter coat. Green face paint, green leggings and some antennae made from silver pipe cleaners and Styrofoam balls completed my look.
Nowadays, I know trends have changed. Most kids wear commercially made costumes and trick-or-treating is a more targeted activity, happening close to home or even at a shopping mall.
My treat bag was filled with mini chocolate bars, Smarties boxes, bubble gum balls, lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, Rockets, and of course Halloween kisses (remember that molasses taffy?). I also remember the odd caramel popcorn ball with a neighbour’s name to verify it was safe.
I wondered what it is like in other places. I have been teaching English as a second language online and my students live in many places across the globe. It has been interesting to ask them about the traditions of Hallowe’en where they live.
My student in Mexico City told me many of the treats there are more like small cakes than chocolate bars (think Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes). His favourite is a bar called Bocadin that has a wafer and a peanut filling covered in chocolate.
In Portugal, where I have another student, the custom for what they call The Day of the Witches is for children to receive bread or pastries, or perhaps fruit or nuts. With the climate being different than here, children are more likely get a pomegranate than an apple.
In France and Italy, my students told me Halloween has crept in through the global influence of technology. But the tradition of All Saints Day (on Nov. 1) continues. It is the holiday that is more celebrated, honouring one’s ancestors.
On All Saint’s Day, people visit cemeteries and put chrysanthemums at grave sites. There is often a family feast honouring loved ones who have passed. In Italy, they make a bread with raisins and walnuts that is offered to friends and family.
Being half Scottish, I am interested in Celtic traditions. I am also an Outlander stories fan, so I am familiar with the symbolism of the spring and fall equinoxes and how they are seen as times when the veil between the living world and the other side is thinnest.
The fall equinox is called Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”) and it falls this year on Oct. 31.
While you might not be looking for standing stones to transport yourself to another time like Claire in the Outlander stories, you might want to try making soul cakes, the traditional Celtic treat that was offered to the kids as they went door-to-door. In exchange, they offered to say a prayer for souls in Purgatory.
Perhaps you just want to celebrate your own good fortune at the end of this lovely summer season.
Whether you binge on the candy you bought for the kids (wink wink) or you bake a treat to share, thinking of those gone before is, I believe, also a wonderful way to enjoy this transitional time of year.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.