The art of celebration: Family heritage Halloween

Halloween: How does a person of faith celebrate a holiday steeped in dark traditions? By creating alternative fun for loved ones. One family looks to the past to enjoy the positive aspects of the Scottish culture with a "Highland Halloween.

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  • A Highland Halloween

  • Necessarily structured routines comprise our “normal” days. A holiday provides a welcome change of pace with celebration, artistic and musical enrichment, and the opportunity to gather loved ones. All of these elements nourish our souls and balance our lives. Even Halloween can provide a healthy, fun-filled diversion. Make the holiday more meaningful by personalizing your celebration with your own family heritage traditions. Not all cultures observe Halloween, so you may wish to create a hybrid; your favorite elements of the holiday blended with the autumn traditions of your family’s earlier native lands.

  • Every fall, after the harvest, ancient Israel observed The Feast of the Tabernacles or Sukkot, a week-long commemoration of God’s protective care as they journeyed in the wilderness. Jewish families still celebrate Sukkot more than three thousand years later. During the Dark Ages, the Catholic Church scheduled All Saint’s Day or Hallowmas on Nov. 1 in an effort to replace the dark rituals of pagan Samhain. More than a thousand years later, many of our Halloween traditions mimic those of our ancestors long ago.

  • Discovering old recipes, décor and traditions can be a fun adventure. As you research your family’s cultural or religious roots, you may wish to look at costume books to see what clothing styles were popular in their region. This helps you picture what they may have looked like. Try to find house types, art and music from their eras.

  • For centuries, people have enjoyed the beauty of flowers and delicious harvest produce. Meals featuring grapes and apples, dates and nuts may be part of your heritage. Apple juice, grape juice, and rustic breads remind us of times past. My family has English, Scottish, German, French and Scandinavian roots. This year we’re celebrating Scottish; tartan plaids, great hall treats and all! To dress up our autumn décor, we’ll add plaid ribbon and tartan table scarves to the baskets of apples, berries and candles. If the weather is clear, we’ll light torches in the yard to light the way for guests coming to our house and put an “antique” clan (family) crest on the front door near the smiling Jack-o-lanterns to let our guests know “This is the place."

  • Did you know that the first Jack-o’ lanterns were carved from turnips and lit with candles in Scotland or Ireland? Many people in Scotland used to believe witches, fairies and spirits roamed the land on the night of Oct. 31, returning to the Otherworld when the church bells rang. Bonfires were lit to scare away unwelcome evil spirits and children dressed in costumes, darkened their faces and went “guisin” for treats. The first trick-or treat treats were soul cakes, a little desserts like the shortbread cookies we enjoy today.

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  • Entertaining Scottish-style may include such treats as scones, nutty toffee, caramel or sugared apples. Our Scottish Halloween Great Hall-style feast includes a smoked ham, a cheese tray, scones, colcannon (mashed potatoes) in potato shells, castle crudités (vegetables) and charmed crowdie (applesauce with whipped cream stirred in). Dessert includes soul cakes and nutty toffee with warm spiced cider to ward off the night chill. We’ll find Scottish bagpipe and fiddle tunes to listen to as we eat and play.

  • After dinner, there will be two traditional Scottish games that you may have heard of and even played at Halloween parties. We’ll go with a local variation of “treacle scones,” and hang miniature doughnuts on strings. Players will try to eat them without using their hands! Then, we’ll have some “apple dookin” — I’ll bet you can guess what this is…bobbing for apples of course! We’ll each try to bite an apple floating in a tub of water, again without using our hands. Later we’ll head out into our own “Enchanted Forest” for a treasure hunt to see if we can find treats left for us by the fairies as they went off to their own celebrations.

  • After a feast in the great halls, people used to watch plays and even go trick-or-treating. There are many tales told by candlelight, stories from the Bible and tales of brave adventurers. Later a spooky Scottish play was written by my great, great…great uncle and has been performed for over four hundred years; William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

  • Another old favorite game that can be played by all ages, three and up, is Murder In The Dark.All the players sit in a big circle. The lights are turned down, but not completely off. Everyone gets a folded piece of paper; all are blank except one, which has a black spot. That person becomes the murderer. All the players hold hands. The murderer starts “killing” the victims by squeezing their hands or winking at them. The “dead” players fall over with a groan. All the players watch to try to guess the culprit. If a player sees someone winking or squeezing, they shout “I have an accusation,” and they call out the name of the person they think is the murderer. If they are wrong, they fall over dead. If they are right, the game starts again with the slips of paper going around and a new murderer getting the black spot.

  • Well Lads and Lassies, I have to be off to get the party started. Have fun with your clan (present) as you enjoy the memories of your clan (past). Happy Halloween!

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  • A recipe for Soul Cakes may be found at www.pammcmurtry.com

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Pam McMurtry is a wife, parent, artist and writer. Find her book "A Harvest and Halloween Handbook" on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Website: http://www.pammcmurtry.com

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