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Life as a Scot in California

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Halloween Part 2

Posted by berkeleyscot on October 26, 2007

When I was a child in Scotland it seemed that Halloween and Bonfire Night were two celebrations in one. Bonfire Night, on November 5, celebrated the discovery of, and the foiling of, the plot by Guy Fawkes, and others, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
A classmate did once invite me to a Halloween party and we played the traditional games: dooking (bobbing) for apples, eating treacly scones tied on strings and pinning the tail on the donkey, blindfolded.
But that was not the usual way we celebrated the season.
Preparations for Bonfire Night started in late October. There was indeed a bonfire to be built. This was long before these events were regulated and the local children scoured the neighbourhood for bonfire material; old tyres, tables, bits of wood, old rugs and rolls of unused wallpaper were collected for the funeral pyre of Guy Fawkes.
We made a Guy out of scarecrow material; old clothes stuffed with straw. He came with us as we foraged for the bonfire and we pulled him along in a hurlie (a wee cart.) “Penny for the Guy!” we shouted.
The pennies bought fireworks. On Bonfire Night, with little adult supervision we lit Roman candles, Catherine wheels, bangers, rockets and waved sparklers about with no care of personal injury or property damage.
The safest place for a bonfire is on the beach, but when I was wee, the bonfire was built on top of the brae, the communal drying green and so very close to our houses.
The Guy sat on the top and once the bonfire was burning, neighbours gathered and kept it blazing, tossing more rubbish on to it.
We cheered when the flames got to the Guy and devoured him.
Then we children started our ‘guising’ and knocked on neighbours’ doors. We were expected and welcomed.
We didn’t shout ‘Trick or Treat.’ We simply knocked and were invited to come in and perform for the treat.
We earned our treat. Those who could dance or sing did so and the reward was a few coins, a toffee apple or a piece of homemade tablet (fudge.)
We didn’t have fancy costumes and I wore my mother’s wrap-around-apron as my outfit. I had a false-face, which was a sixpenny piece of cardboard, secured behind my head with an elastic band.
It usually rained and the false-face was mushy on my cheeks.
Most children had a talent for dancing or singing, but I didn’t dance or sing or entertain.
My talent was to recite and bore.
My favourite poem has always been, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” By Sir Walter Scott.
I‘d launch into:

The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel was infirm and old;
His wither'd cheek, and tresses gray,
Seem'd to have known a better day;
The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy

I’d start weeping when I got to “carried by an orphan boy…” The poor wee laddie carrying the heavy harp in the cold wind. I got my sixpence and went weeping to recite at the next house.

But on October 31 I will turn on the porch light and I will have a basket of candy.
I don’t want the wee ones to trip over their costumes climbing up my steps.
I’m not really so grumpy.


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