Give your garden a Halloween ‘spook-over’
Ever wondered how Halloween started? Or how it has evolved into what it is today? We’ve dusted the cobwebs off our history books to find out the story of Halloween.
And we’ve got some great tips on how you can celebrate 31 October by creating a spooktacular Halloween garden, complete with a perfectly carved pumpkin!
Halloween is old, very old! It can best be described as a bringing-together of Celtic, pagan and western Christian festivals.
The date, 31 October, is the day before All Hallows’ Day, which is also known as All Saints’ Day in the Christian calendar. The Christian festival remembers all the saints and martyrs and the name comes from the old English word ‘hallowed’, meaning holy or sanctified. It was on the eve of All Hallows’ Day that Christian churches would hold a vigil before the huge feasts on 1 November.
The Christian origins of dedicating a day to saints and martyrs appears to date back to the fourth century but it wasn’t until 837AD, when Pope Gregory III extended it to include all the saints and martyrs, that the day was moved from 13 May to 1 November and named the Feast of All Saints.
Some historians believe the origins aren’t Christian at all, but are rooted in Celtic and pagan traditions. A number of different theories have been put forward. One is that the festival on the original date of 13 May was originally a pagan event to win the favour of the restless sprits of the dead. At some point, the festival was Christianised.
It seems likely that many Halloween traditions are linked to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was also subsequently Christianised. It was held on 31 October and 1 November to mark the end of the harvest season and the start of winter.
As part of the rituals, the souls of dead kin would be beckoned to attend the feast table and a place would be set for them. Bad spirits would be placated to ensure those attending and their animals would survive the winter. People would dress up and candles and bonfires would be lit. It’s thought that bobbing for apples also took place as part of the festivities.
These Celtic and pagan elements can be seen in the way we celebrate Halloween today, and the event is now secular and community-based rather than religious.
The mass immigration of people to America from Ireland – where Samhain was a very strong tradition – popularised Halloween in the US in the 1800s. And guess what? It seems England exported trick-or-treating to America and not the other round. On All Souls’ Day – 2 November, the day after All Saints’ Day – poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called Soul Cakes. In return, the poor people would pray for the families’ dead relatives.
This ‘going-a-souling’ tradition changed over time so that children would later knock on neighbours’ doors and ask for food or money. Which brings us to today, when Halloween is all about ghosts and ghoulies and trick-or-treating …
Tips for creating a spooktacular garden for Halloween
Of course, you could buy all of the following in shops or online, but where’s the fun in that?!
Make your own graveyard
Dead easy! Simply make half a dozen or so gravestones out of polystyrene sheets or thick cardboard and paint them. Search the internet for DIY polystyrene gravestones for plenty of tutorials – although cardboard is easier and more environment-friendly.
Create spiders’ webs
String or rope is easiest, although cotton wool looks great, especially in amongst the trees. Again, check out the tutorials online.
Bring some ghosts to the party
It’s amazing what can be done with some old sheets and a bit of imagination.
And don’t forget the skeletons
Just one tip for you here: Search online for ‘how to make a paper plate skeleton’. You’ll be amazed!
Perfect pumpkin jack-o-lanterns: Here’s how
Buy your pumpkins as close as you can to Halloween to avoid them going off before the big day. Choose one that’s firm and heavy and has an even, orange colour. Check that it ‘sits’ straight on a flat surface – if it doesn’t, you’ll need to level the bottom by removing a thin slice. Or choose one with a flatter bottom!
The first job is to slice off the top of the pumpkin using a bread knife and to then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Start with the flesh and seeds in the middle and then the flesh on the inside of the skin. Keep the sides about 2.5cm (1-inch) thick.
Draw on your face design with a marker pen – three triangles make the eyes and nose (triangle point at the top for the eyes and at the bottom for the nose) – and then carefully, with a small serrated knife, cut all the way through, remembering to always cut away from you.
For the mouth, cut out the flesh in a straight-ish line about an inch wide, with an upward curve at each end. But don’t forget to carve in a couple of teeth top and bottom in the middle of the mouth. Rubbing Vaseline over the cut edges will preserve your lantern for longer. As these lanterns are for the garden, there’s no need to pierce holes near the top for string handles. For the purposes of safety, use a battery-powered candle inside. Pop the crown back onto the top and you have a perfect pumpkin to go with your Spooktacular garden!