Friday, 30 October 2009

No Halloween here tonight, alas!

When I was a child in Melbourne I'd hardly heard of Halloween, but we had an equivalently anarchic, magical, night time celebration. To celebrate either the attempt, or the failure of the attempt, to blow up Parliament a couple of hundred years ago in London, we Aussies would spend weeks gathering fuel (old chairs, tree branches, etc) for huge bonfires in our backyards and in the streets. It was Guy Fawkes Night, on November the 5th, imported with parliamentary government from England.

Please to remember,
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot 
This was one childhood chant - possibly abbreviated from something longer and political.

Children accumulated fire crackers and sparklers and catherine wheels and rockets for a few weeks beforehand, and long before the real dark, the crackers - little crackers and huge bungers - went off everywhere, filling the evening with deafening bangs and gunpowder smoke with that most enticing smell.

Bad boys put crackers in small childrens' pockets and threw strings of penny bungers at them to make them run. More socially-adjusted teams of children devised very dangerous and satisfying explosions as group efforts.
In my street, one year, we children set off enough cracker power in a carefully dug tunnel in a vacant block of land to send clods flying all over the adults' street bonfire. It was stupendous. A great deal of shouting and adult recrimination followed. That explosion took a week of planning, pooling of crackers and secret digging. And I bet none of the others involved have ever forgotten it either.

When it was really, truly dark, all the rockets and catherine wheels and sparklers threw coloured stars and fountains of red and silver and golden lights up in the sky above the crackling orange-red bonfires. One notable year our family contributed driftwood from a beach trip to the street fire and amazed everyone with blue-green flames.

Of course the mayhem with the magic meant that over the years children were deafened, blinded, and had hands and faces damaged until, finally, the state government banned all firecrackers. The bonfires became fire hazards. Guy Fawkes night disappeared, and is now mostly forgotten here.
I miss it.

When my children were growing up I revived a bit of that bad and beautiful night magic by having Halloween parties to celebrate my birthday (which happens to fall on All Saints Day just after Halloween). We had adults and children telling creepy tales late around a  bonfire and cobwebs and pumpkins and candles and weird birthday cakes. Everyone dressed up and occasionally we went down to the creek by candle and torch light and launched empty egg shells and paper boats for the goblins and witches to sail home in. (I don't know where that one came from - my boys invented it). We also burned magical  letters in the bonfire. (I think that came from the paper offerings the children saw Yin's family offering on ceremonial occasions).

Now the children are grown up and away, there will be no magical, fiery shenaningans in this house - and anyway the bushfire season has started early. I 've been reading all the posts of happy halloweeners with a lot of pleasure, and just a little envy. May you all enjoy the magic tonight.

PS I know this post is dated the 30th October, but my posts are always dated the day before they are actually posted - don't know why. Am I on Atlantic and not Pacific time? Anyway it really is the last day of October right now, right here. And it is summer, not autumn, for me.

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