Halloween seems to be the preferred celebration of the Lewis family. We just all seem to chime with the idea of scaring the hell out of sweet, innocent children. And, of course, there’s all the sweets and candy. Last year, due to a combination of reasons, we ended up doing nothing for Halloween. Something that we all immediately regretted. As did a surprising number of the visiting Trick or Treaters; quite a few people asked where the display was… So, this year saw the return of a traditional Lewis Halloween.
A traditional Lewis Halloween involves inviting neighbours and family over for a party and, at the same time, having an interactive Halloween display occupying the back garden. The idea being that the party guests can join in the interactive element of scaring children witless. In the nicest possible way, of course.
Halloween hasn’t always been this way. A generation ago, a traditional Lewis Halloween was to sit at home and ignore any knocks on the door, of which there were virtually none. This was the 1970s and, to working class parents such as mine, the idea of going Trick or Treating was too close to begging. So my brothers and I never went Trick or Treating. And any Trick or Treaters who knocked on our door left empty handed. My dad, who is ex-forces, also considered the idea of Halloween to be an American import and simply not British (much like the idea of a Prom used to be!) He spent a number of years posted in the Far East, where he rubbed shoulders with American servicemen and developed a love/hate relationship with Americans during this time (1960s). Don’t ask…!
Another, large, contributing factor to this is that if you go back another generation, to when my dad was a boy, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Halloween was simply All Hallow’s Eve. Or All Saint’s Eve. My dad’s family was not particularly religious, so a traditional Lewis Halloween, for that generation, was to sit at home and wonder when Rationing might come to an end. You see, even if Halloween, as we know it, existed back then, confectionery rationing didn’t end until February 1953. So dad would have been 12 at the next Halloween when sweets and candy would, conceivably, be plentiful enough to give away. Which is, surely, too old to take part?!
Of course, if you go back several dozen more generations, and because we Lewis’ are of Welsh stock, a traditional Lewis Halloween would involve taking part in Nos Galan Gaeaf. This was the night before the first day of winter. Great fires were built because it was known that ghosts and ghouls roamed the land during this night. Nos Galan Gaeaf is similar to the better known Samhain, both of which being Celtic festivals celebrating the end of the harvest time and the start of winter. Both also focusing on the spirits and the dead. Ideas quickly incorporated into the Christian concept of Allhallowtide, a three day festival, starting on October 31st, which focuses on remembering the dead. Although, in this case, the dead in question were saints and martyrs.
Not that any of this is remembered these days, because the whole thing has become dressing up, Trick or Treating and pumpkins. There’s some vague understanding that there are ghosts and witches involved, but that’s about as far as the understanding goes. Which is fine, because we like Halloween just the way it is.
When the girls were very young, we never used to bother doing the house up, we just took them out to get sweets. Very quickly, though, it became clear that is was perfectly fine for the accompanying parents to dress up as monsters. And that was it for me, I was hooked. On a couple of occasions, just escorting the girls around the village, other children we encountered would burst into tears at the sight of me. And the seed was sown. To be fair, I was just wearing a werewolf mask and gloves and wandering along behind the girls. I wasn’t actively trying to scare anyone. They just cried when they saw me…
And then the neighbours over the road started doing their house up with Halloween decorations. Until that point, I hadn’t know such a wonder existed. So, each year, we started buying a couple of things to decorate the house. We couldn’t do too much, because it was their thing. All I could do was regard their house with envious eyes, and slowly and surely draw my plans against them.
But all of that became unnecessary when, five years ago, we moved to our current house. It was on a new estate. Which meant we had carte blanche. So we went for it. A traditional Lewis Halloween started that first Halloween… which, I know, doesn’t make much sense. How can the first time be a tradition? Well, because I’d spent years wanting to have this as a tradition. Besides, a tradition has to start somewhere.
An event was set up on Facebook, with the following invitation:
Fancy dress theme this year will be, “Scare the neighbourhood kids so much that they cry”.
The current record is two tots in tears. We’re looking for at least three crying kids for 2018.
In and around terrifying the toddlers, there will be a buffet and drinks.
As I read that back, I realise that it looks pretty bad. I should probably point out that we’re not specifically targeting kids to make them cry. We are, however, introducing jump scares to most people that come in. If those coming in are obviously too young for that, we don’t do it. The problems, though, are twofold:
- Quite often, different groups come in together, meaning there are up to a dozen people milling around. The first group has kids of the right sort of age, so you start your routine. By the time you get to the patio, it turns out that some really young kids have come in afterwards, by which time you’re roaring in their faces.
- It’s really hard to judge the age of Trick or Treaters when you’re on the other side of the garden wearing a rubber werewolf mask!
In our defense, that is what a traditional Lewis Halloween consists of: a haunted graveyard and jump scares. When we didn’t do it last year, we actually got complaints from the Trick or Treaters. And, judging by the amount of sweets we got through, we must have had over 200 people come through (including the parents). The word is spread among the Trick or Treaters; they know what they’re getting into…
Besides, you have to be able to rank the relative success of a traditional Lewis Halloween somehow. We chose:
- Kids in tears (4)
- Adults that properly screamed (5)
Both of these are new records!
The funny thing is; most of the scares came from simple rubber masks, not elaborate make up. This despite the excellence of some of the makeup involved.
But it wasn’t just about scaring the neighbours, some of whom came back for a second look, I might add; it was also about feeding the masses.
A traditional Lewis Halloween also includes a chance for me to indulge myself with a bit of baking. Sadly, as it turned out, I’m a bit out of practice, what with all the messing around of the past few years. We also decided to go for more of a buffet approach, to cut down the amount of time spent in the kitchen, during the event. In previous years I was being dragged in three directions:
- Sorting the food out in the kitchen
- Hosting the party and talking to the guests
- Scaring the bejesus out of the Trick or Treaters
I stuck to my normal way of laying out the food, which is to introduce it in three waves, roughly based on the idea of a starter, main course and dessert.
This year the menu was:
A starter of Puking Pumpkins with Guacamole and Blue Cheese dips and an assortment of chips, along with nibbles like peanuts and cheese puffs.
A main course of:
- Pizza fingers (with roast red pepper triangles for ‘nails’)
- Sausage Mummys
- Ghoulish Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Pinwheels
- Coffin Sandwiches
It was around this point that things started going wrong. We did an assortment of sandwiches, using crustless loaves. The plan was to cut these in half and then shape them into coffins. But, once the sandwiches were filled, the only way this could be done, was to do them individually, so that plan got binned very fast. It was going to have to be triangles.
The other problem was that, while dying the cream cheese a sort of bluish, greenish colour to make them look ghoulish might seem like a good idea. In practice, no one, and I mean no one, wants to eat blue/green cream cheese in salmon. And they tasted good…!
The dessert was supposed to be:
- Meringue Toadstools
- Mucky Macarons
- Bat and Witch Refrigerator Cookies
- Simnel Cheesecake Dip
And this half-worked. I was supposed to get all elaborate with the refrigerator cookies. The plan was to roll the dough into a cylinder and let it firm up. Then cut the cylinder into thick slices and use small bat or witch cutters to remove the centre. These centres would then be collected and dyed and flavoured before being rolled out, and cut with the cutters and replaced in the gap. The discs could then be lined up and put back in the fridge to firm up again. Then thin slices could be cut and baked, all with a bat or witch in the middle of each cookie, in a different colour and flavour.
As long as this is to explain, it was far longer to do in practice. About three hours longer than the time I had available. So I just rolled them flat and used a big bat cutter and baked them like that. They tasted fine, but were nowhere near as exciting as I wanted them to be.
The Simnel Cheesecake Dip, on the other hand, simply bombed. I was going to make a pumpkin cheesecake dip, but that seemed too American. Pumpkin is a traditional American flavour. The traditional Halloween dessert in the UK is the Simnel Cake. The issue is that, whereas pumpkin translates well into a cheesecake base, Simnel flavouring does not. I only really used lemon and mixed spice in the cheesecake element but these clashed horribly with the savoury of the Ricotta and the sweetness of the cream and icing sugar. Even the meticulously toasted marzipan balls and the Ginger Nut biscuits, used to dip, couldn’t rescue it. Score 1 for American flavours!
The Meringue Toadstools and the Macarons, on the other hand, were roaring successes.
The underlying issue with most of these problems was time. Or the lack thereof. There simply isn’t enough of the stuff to properly prepare both aspects of a traditional Lewis Halloween. There certainly isn’t enough to properly host a party and be part of an interactive Halloween frightfest.
Which is why, as of next year, a traditional Lewis Halloween will no longer feature the party element of the night. I’ll still do some baking and I’m sure we’ll still have a few people over. But those people will have to work for their supper. Only after the last Trick or Treater has been sent home, quaking in his or her boots, can there be any thought of relaxing with a plate of baked goods.
We’ve got new records to beat, and the planning starts here!