Week 30 – Pumpkins and Halloween

Hello and welcome to this week’s Giving Tuesday. We hope you are all enjoying this half term (which seems to have gone really fast… here we are at the end of October already!).

Halloween is here again: have you carved your pumpkin yet? And while we’re on the subject, why DO we carve pumpkins for Halloween?

Jack O’Lanterns

The history of carving vegetables for Halloween dates back several hundred years, and can be traced to a story from Ireland. The story goes that a man, called Jack, tried to cheat the devil and for punishment he was made to wander the earth forever, with only a candle inside a carved out pumpkin to light his way.

As the centuries passed, people carved faces into turnips and potatoes to ward away evil spirits at Halloween, when the boundary between the real world and the spirit world was said to be thinnest.

Traditional Irish Jack-o’-Lantern
Museum of Country Life

When European settlers moved to the New World, they took these ideas with them, and, as pumpkins turned out to be much easier to carve than turnips, quickly turned to this native American fruit for their Halloween carvings.

Here’s a helpful video showing you how to ‘carve a pumpkin like a pro’:

Halloween – what does it mean?

Traditionally celebrated on October 31st, this celebration of the night between October and November, when Autumn becomes Winter, stems from an old Celtic celebration called Samhain (pronounced Sow-wen) which is an old Celtic word for November.

From around the 16th century, people in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales celebrated it with bonfires, feasting, and dressing up in strange costumes to visit friends and neighbours (a practice known as “Mumming” or “Guising”). This can still be seen in some part of Wales today, where villagers dress up as the Mari Lwyd, the white horse, and go from door to door.

Image of Mari Lwyd costume

As the Christian church became more prevalent across Britain, the festival became known as Hallows’ Even or All Hallows Eve, and was a time for people to remember the saints and martyrs of the Christian faith, as well as recently departed loved ones. People would visit their neighbours and be given special treats, known as “soul cakes,” in return for promises to remember the dead in their prayers.

Gradually the new name contracted, and in the 1700s became the one we know today: Halloween. Many of our “modern” Halloween activities actually go back for hundreds of years.

Halloween in 2020

Well, it’s all a bit different this year, isn’t it? Trick or Treating (which, of course, is based on the old tradition of giving “soul cakes”) and many other activities cannot go ahead. But don’t worry: we have a few suggestions for you!

Pumpkin trail

For a start, why not take part in our Pumpkin Trail? We have emailed a Pumpkin Trail poster to every school in our area (Royston, Buntingford and South Cambridgeshire), asking the schools to send these out to the families. We’re hoping that lots of people will choose to print out the posters and pop them in their windows.

Grab yourself a bag of sweets, and take the kids for a wander round town: how many of our Pumpkin Posters can you spot? Every time you see one, give the kids a sweet! It’s kind of like Trick or Treating, but without the worry of knocking on people’s doors!

If you would like to print one out and pop it in your window, you can find it here.

Spooky treats

Being indoors doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Halloween to it’s fullest. Why not get the kids involved in making some spooky treats. There are lots of recipes out there for making or baking… here are some of our favourites:

And don’t forget to share photos of your wonderful makes and bakes on our Facebook page!

Murder most foul

And, if you’re feeling brave enough, why not come on our virtual Jack the Ripper Walk?

Starting at 7.30pm on 31st October, we’re going on a virtual tour of the sites where infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, terrorised the streets of East London in 1888. With an expert tour guide, you can hear all about the murders, the investigation, and find out why The Ripper was never caught.

Tickets are £8 pp and can be purchased here…

Whatever you choose to do this year, even if it’s stay home with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book, stay safe and have fun!

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