While there wasn’t much in the way of organised Halloween fun this year, we did dress the boy up as a furry little fox for a party at his nursery. I was thrilled, as dressing him up in ludicrous costumes is one of my favourite pastimes, but also because Halloween is an event close to my heart.
It is derived from the Irish pagan festival of Oíche Shamhna; the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. During this time, the boundaries between the Otherworld and our own are blurred and spirits and fairies roam freely across the land. Offering them food or gifts might ensure the health of your family and livestock during the coming winter, while disguising yourself as one of the more horrible beasties was deemed a good way of evading their detection. If people then gave you food, gifts and drink as you went door to door, all the better.
Like St Paddy’s Day, this was a tradition we outsourced to other countries, allowing them to tailor it to their own design and sell it back to us. It’s unlikely my ancient forebears dressed as any of the characters from Tiger King, or even a less anachronistic spin on a contemporary figure – a Sexy Cromwell perhaps – but they might be pleased to see just how far this local peculiarity has now spread.
I was upset we wouldn’t get to take my son trick or treating for the first time, as it would have been my first, too. Living so remotely, there was only one other house on our road but, even as confectionary-crazed children, we reckoned walking there and back for a few sweets would constitute the saddest nine minutes of our year. Instead, we went into town where, luckily enough, Derry throws the biggest Halloween celebration on Earth. The entire city goes for it full-strength with a whole weekend of events, attractions and a gigantic fireworks display. Novelty costume shops dominate the high street as premises change their business model for the month, since it makes better sense for them to sell witch’s hats and Donald Trump masks in those few weeks than, say, pets or insulin.
Everyone dresses up: postmen, supermarket cashiers, bus drivers. I’ve read that very strict Catholics in some parts of Ireland balk at Halloween, because there’s something ungodly about celebrating paganistic beliefs. The convent school I attended had clearly not received this memo – our nuns spent the last week of October dressed as zombies and ghouls, and throwing enough sweets at us that vomiting at some part of the day was more or less mandatory.
My son didn’t quite get that experience, since London Halloween is different, and Covid Halloween different again, but he enjoyed his fox costume so much it had to be removed when he overheated himself to a soaked crescendo – a sure sign that some Derry DNA is in his genes. The healthy snacks and drinks induced no vomit, but he couldn’t have been happier if he’d guzzled a bag of sugar through a straw. Maybe next year, all being well, we’ll try a more full-strength prescription of Halloween back home. If we fooled him into thinking this was as spooky as it gets then yes, it was a trick. But it was a treat, as well.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats