Halloween in Ireland, Halloween in Poland

I've been introducing my students to the traditions of Halloween this in week at work, so I'd thought I'd share some reflections here about how I used to spend it as a boy in Ireland. Unlike my ancestors, I didn't have the hardship of hollowing out and carving faces into turnips - pumpkins were well on the market in the 80's.

The origins of the celebration derive from the Celtic pagan festival of 'Samhain' or 'end of the summer.' This period was celebrated as a time when spirits 'came back' to visit their mortal relatives, the danger of nasty spirits being warded off by colossal bonfires.
According to Wikipedia
Pope Gregory IV standardized the date of All Saints' Day, or All Hallows' Day, on November 1 in the name of the entire Western Church in 835.

My friends and I were quite entrepreneurial in our heyday, stockpiling up to 5 masks each so that we could pay repeat visits to gullible, generous, trick-or-treat loving neighbours. We frowned when we got monkey nuts, savagely scoffed down chocolate with smiley faces, and fought bitterly over the money we had earned. All in the good name of All Hallow's (saints/souls) Eve. Remembering the dead had, of course, fuck all to do with any of it.The following day we would go to the cemetery, but compared to the ritual that takes place here in Poland, it was miniscule.

After we returned home from letting off fireworks and performing ludicrously dangerous stunts on bicycles through our meticulously constructed bonfires, we settled down to a good old bit of blood and gore on TV, finishing off any of the sweets which remained from our daily collections.

The next morning our teeth rotted with the sugar aftermath of our gluttony from the night previous, our clothes stenched of burnt rubber and firewood, our armpits stank from having worn a black polythene bag over our clothes for half the previous day - but all was well, cause we only had to be kids, not having any responsibilities - apart from eating our dinner to ensure we received dessert.

What a hard knock life that was, eh!

Tomorrow I will be going to Brudny cemetery here in Warsaw, Poland. It will be a chilly tour of my girlfriend's deceased family members' graves. Silence will be broken by the crowds who en masse flock to ensure the sacred graves of their relatives (which they haven't visited since last All Saint's Day) is clean and adorned beautifully with flowers and lanterns. Money ceases to be a contentious issue tomorrow, even amongst those scraping a living - the dead need to be dressed with flowers plucked in Holland, the hinterlands of Warsaw, and maybe even as far afield as Kenya; the abundant sales people go home smiling; the living feel content that their 'dead' have a few extra indulgences bellowed in their names; and cynical, satire-seeking fuckers, like me, will be there in the corner observing it all.

That aside, tomorrow is also a day of real grief for many who have lost loved ones on the recent past. To those my heart pleads. But to the others who dress up to the nines as if it's a fashion show, well, I have no qualms about mocking them.

I fully intend on making the most out of the day, returning home with arms full of the traditional All Saint's 'Panskie Skorky' sweets. sold, yes, within the cemetery itself. The name for the tooth-killers, for your information, weirdly translates as 'The Skin of the Lord.' Hmmmm, yummmeeeeee!!!


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