Halloween – Where Did It All Begin

Halloween is a great time for kids to dress up and go Trick-or-Treating, but what is it all about? Well, Halloween is a shortened version of All Hallows Eve, which means the evening before All Hallows (or Saints) Day in the Christian calendar. However, the origins of Halloween as a night of celebration date back to medieval times with the Festival of Samhain, an ancient Celtic tradition when people would dress up to ward off evil spirits.

light landscape sky sunset
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Halloween was introduced to America by Scottish immigrants in the early 1900s, and thus began the commercialization of the occasion. It died off somewhat in Britain and Europe, just as the celebration of All Saints Day on the 1st November became just another date on the calendar.

However, as with many things and mainly thanks to Hollywood, what happens in the States one year will happen in the UK the next (or in this case half a century later) and Europe inevitably follows.

Trick-or-Treating also has its origins in Medieval Britain, when the poor would beg for food and in return, they would pray for the dead on All Souls Day, which is the 2nd November. Again, this all but died off until it appeared in America in the 1920s when the Scottish tradition of “guising” was introduced. This was when children disguised themselves as something frightening (to reinforce the “Trick” or threat) and went from house to house demanding “Treats”, usually sweets or candy.

The decorating and placing of pumpkins outside the home may seem a very American thing to do, but again, this was brought over by Irish immigrants in the late 19th century.

Halloween turnip

Back in Ireland, they wouldn’t have used pumpkins though. It would most likely be a turnip or a potato, hollowed out and carved into a face.

A candle was placed inside to provide the light and they called it Jack O’Lantern (as in Jack-of-the-Lantern).

Halloween pumpkin

Nowadays, people are quite creative in their carving, turning it into quite an art form.

So, contrary to what many people think, Halloween, trick-or-treating, pumpkins and dressing up is very much a British and Irish tradition that was introduced to America by Scottish immigrants, and then taken on board again by the Brits in the late 80s. early 90s.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is a day for people in the US to give thanks for what they have and it takes place on the 4th Thursday in November. The celebration dates back to the mid 18th century, although the first Thanksgiving is said to have taken place in October 1621, when the Pilgrims played host to around 90 Native Americans.

It is a time when families and friends get together for a meal, traditionally comprising a roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, gravy, and pumpkin pie. Well, you have to get rid of that pumpkin somehow after Halloween!

This year will be different to previous years because we have… COVID-19! Yes, there will be rules governing how many can attend, what you must and mustn’t do, and where the party should be held.

Each state will have different rules but in California:

  • Gatherings can not have people from over three households. This includes anyone present at the gatherings.
  • Keep the households you spend time with stable. Don’t mix into multiple gatherings.
  • The host should collect names and contact information of attendees for contact tracing.
  • We must hold all gatherings outside. People can go inside to use the bathroom.
  • Gatherings “may occur in outdoor spaces that are covered by umbrellas, canopies, awnings, roofs, and other shade structures provided that at least three sides of the space (or 75%) are open to the outdoors.”
  • Gatherings of over three households can happen at a park or outdoor space.
  • Don’t attend a gathering if you feel sick.
  • Keep physical distance from others and practice hand hygiene.
  • Wear a face mask when you can.
  • Gatherings should only be two hours or less.
  • “Singing, chanting, and shouting are strongly discouraged.” Those who take part in those activities should wear masks.

If after all this you still feel like celebrating this wonderful tradition, here are a few tips and ideas.

What to take as a gift

Thanksgiving is not traditionally a gift-bearing occasion, but if you are invited to a friend’s house you shouldn’t go empty handed. Here are some ideas for things to take along.

  • An appetizer, side dish, or dessert. If you were invited to a potluck*, you’ll probably be bringing one of these things anyway
  • Wine, whiskey, champagne, cider, or your home made punch
  • A flowering plant or table centerpiece (Not flowers, see below)
  • An edible treat for the next morning
  • A small gift for the avid cook.

Things to do – or not.

  1. Don’t show up early. The hosts will have timed everything and you will have been told when to arrive. Getting there early means they have to break off to entertain you.
  2. Bring utensils. If you’ve made a dish that needs special utensils to serve up, bring ‘em along.
  3. Don’t hang around in the kitchen. This is a very stressful time for the host, with lots to do. Having you there telling them what an awful journey you had will not help. Save that for the small talk later.
  4. Eat a snack beforehand. You may have to wait a while for everyone else to arrive and for all the formalities to settle down.
  5. Most people like wine and everybody likes flowers. But here’s the thing about flowers. They have to be put into a vase and possibly trimmed first. Imagine turning up with a fine bouquet and the hostess is up to her elbows in flour or turkey baste and now she has to clean up, go find a vase and arrange it all into a nice display. If alcohol is off the menu then take a flowering plant. It’s already set in its own pot and nicely wrapped this would make a great gift. A poinsettia works well this time of year and will flower right through to Christmas and beyond.

Why not go for Potluck?

These days a lot of people like to share the cooking, and it can be more fun with a great variety of dishes.  This takes a lot of the strain of cooking off the host, but it still needs to be organised.

Here are just a few tips on what you need to do.

1. Create a sign-up sheet

You can set up a spreadsheet and share it on Dropbox or Google, or just email it. Ask everybody to grab something from one from these categories:

2. Develop a menu that is fun for everyone.

Include traditional dishes from other cultures.

Remember to check if anyone has any allergies or other specific dietary needs. Maybe they can provide food that suits them or other dishes tailored to make them more inclusive (like using gluten free products or avoiding nuts).

Don’t forget the kids!

3. Figure out how much food you need

This is perhaps the most challenging aspect. You can cope with too much, but too little? Well, Subway should be open if nowhere else is.

Here is a useful guide stolen from dish.allrecipes.com

  • Appetizers or snacks should consist of two to three bites per person
  • 3 ounces of dip (about 1/3 cup) per person
  • 1 cup of soup per person (less if it’s a thick soup, like chowder)
  • 3 ounces of salad (about 1 cup) per person
  • 6 ounces of meat or main entrée per person
  • 5 ounces of starch (potato, pasta, or rice) per person
  • One and a half pieces of dessert per person

4. Send gentle reminders

Include in the reminder

  • Plan how to transport hot dishes. You can find padded casserole carriers in houseware stores or online. A cooler works well for keeping dishes warm, too. Wrap the dish so it is solidly set into the container. Use plastic wrap and aluminum foil generously to ensure the dish is airtight.
  • Check with your guests to see if they’ll need oven room for reheating dishes.
  • Provide cards so guests can label their dishes, especially if there are dietary concerns in your group.
  • Provide serving utensils, or ask guests to bring them.

5. Create a holiday vibe

Light some candles, set the table, create a playlist.

6. Set a time for dinner to be served

Arrival time and sit down to eat time

7. Ask for cleanup help

That group activity after dinner helps battle that post-turkey tendency to crash on the couch and slip into a food coma. It’s also a great way to make room for dessert. Remind everybody to grab the dishes and utensils they’ve brought to the party. Portion out the leftovers into disposable containers so you can share the bounty.

8. Go for a sweet finish

Why not finish by setting up a sweets table?

Assign one of those non-cookers to be in charge of coffee and tea or after-dinner drinks.

Ideas to keep the kids amused

The way we see it, these Thanksgiving activities for kids aren’t just for, well, kids. They’re also an easy, stress-free way to give your grown-up guests some space and time to enjoy themselves during your delicious Thanksgiving feast. And if you happen to be hosting this year, you’ll be glad to know that our ideas will give you the freedom to check on your famous pie recipe.

Of course, if you’re looking for an excuse to spend time with, and not away from, your kiddos, we’ve got you covered there too: From simple, no-mess crafts to low-key (read: quiet!) games, nearly everything on our list can prove fun for kids and grown-ups alike, should you choose to take a trip to the kids’ table. After all, we know from personal experience that Thanksgiving activities for families to do together are in high demand too.

Last but not least, we’ve also made sure not to forget the littlest ones! Our list includes a ton of cute Thanksgiving activities for preschoolers, too, so that you can keep your toddlers occupied until the turkey is carved and ready to eat. There’s only one thing left to worry about: Other guests might start requesting seats at the kids’ table. You’ve been warned!

Thanksgiving Coloring Placemats

Encourage your kids to share their gratitude and express their creativity with these cute placemats

Gratitude Jar

Have little ones—or everyone!—share what they’re thankful for by placing this jar, strips of paper, and a few pens at the table. After dinner, wrap up your feast on a sweet note by having kiddos read the slips aloud while dessert is served.

Thanksgiving Coloring Pages

These Thanksgiving-themed coloring pages cost next to nothing to prepare thanks to this blogger’s free set of printables. Set them out with crayons and consider your prep work done.

Colorful Pumpkin Seeds

Every kid at the table will love this creative Thanksgiving project. Plus, it’s the perfect way to use your leftover pumpkin seeds!

Each pumpkin has around 500 seeds, so when you’ve toasted some, planted others, why not use what’s left to create artwork?

Whatever Thanksgiving you go for, don’t forget what it is all about. Giving thanks.

And on that topic, I’d like to give thanks to Rebekah Lowin and Jill Gleeson for their contribution on Country Living.

Bonfire Night – What Is It All About

Fireworks

Tonight, all over England (and perhaps other parts of the UK), people will be lighting fires and setting off fireworks in celebration of . . . What?  Well, we know that on this day, the 5th November, many, many years ago, a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was thwarted, and the perpetrator, a certain Mr. Guy Fawkes, was arrested and sentenced to death. A rather macabre thing to celebrate, but we’ve been doing it for so many years now, the actual meaning of Bonfire Night is somewhat lost. Read on to learn more.

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Guy Fawkes was born on or around the 13th April 1570 in York, England, into a well-to-do family of Protestants, although his mother came from a staunch Catholic family. This may be what drew him to Catholicism after his father died when he was 8 years old when his maternal grandparents took more control over his education.

He fought in the 80 Years War for Catholic Spain against the Protestant Dutch and in 1603 he returned to Spain to seek support for a rebellion against King James I. However, the King of Spain was reluctant to enter into further conflict with England and refused to help him.

So, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

The Gunpowder Plot

Having joined a group of English Catholics who were plotting to murder the King and replace him with Princess Elizabeth, Guy agreed to take 12 of the group down to London, where they would hatch a plot to blow up the House of Lords. They met in a pub known as the Duck and Drake, sadly no longer standing, and discussed how they would go about it.

Guy had taken on the name of John Johnson at this time, and he managed to get a job as a caretaker to the house of the keeper of the King’s wardrobe. This gave him insight into the comings and goings of Parliament, and he discovered that there was a room that had a cellar that stretched right under the House of Lords. Contrary to popular belief that a tunnel was used to gain access (although this may have been part of the original plan), they bought the lease to the room and used the cellar to store 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Something else not many people know is that all this took place in the summertime, as Parliament was scheduled to open in July. However, due to the threat of The Plague, the opening was put back until November. If not for that we would be setting off fireworks in mid-summer!

Guy Fawkes’ Arrest and Interrogation

The plot began to fall apart when one of the conspirators wrote to a Catholic Lord warning him to stay away from the opening of Parliament as it would “receive a terrible blow” that day. Lord Monteagle thought that it might be a hoax but decided to show it to the King, who immediately ordered a search of the undercroft to the House.

Poor old Guy was caught red-handed, literally as he had a slow-burning match in his hand ready to light the fuse at the allotted time. He was arrested and taken to the Tower of London for “questioning”.

At first, he refused to give his real name, providing instead his assumed name of John Johnson, but after torturous interrogation, he signed his confession as Guido Fawkes, Guido being his Italian nickname given to him by his comrades in the Spanish war. He was subsequently sentenced to death along with the co-conspirators.

His death is often misquoted. He did not burn at the stake, and, unlike his co-conspirators, he was not hung drawn and quartered. In fact, he took his own life by jumping from the gallows as he was being led to meet his gruesome fate, breaking his neck in the process. The date was 31st January 1606. Despite him being dead, they still cut his body up and “cast his limbs to the four corners of the Kingdom”, to warn others of the consequences of treason.

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

A year later, the Observance of the 5th November Act, 1605 was passed, designating that day as a day of Thanksgiving, and people were encouraged to light fires across the country. Fireworks became a part of the celebration in 1650 and in 1673, the first effigy was burned, although back then it was meant to represent the Pope!

Over the years, many a politician or celebrity have been portrayed as the effigy, but the use of Guy Fawkes is the most endearing. It is only in relatively recent times that Guy has been used as the focal point, maybe to make it less political following the repeal of the Act in 1859, when children were encouraged to parade around the streets shouting “penny for the Guy”

Anon

So, when you set fire that rag filled suit of old clothes, give a thought to the person who has been described as “the last man to enter the Houses of Parliament with honest intentions”.

It seems ironic that, in this day and age, Guido has greater political influence than at any time in our history, and it stretches right across the globe.

Does this mask look familiar?

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