A Toronto Halloween

Having spent day after day walking the dog every which way around our neighbourhood, I have become much more aware of the “big deal” that is Halloween over here. I was brought up in the US and from a very early age went trick or treating followed by my long-suffering Dad, steps behind me with a cine-camera. Upon arrival in the UK, still as a child,  I soon learnt that “trick or treating ” was to become a thing of the past with November 5th  “Guy Fawkes” celebrations being the UK substitute around this time of year – minus the candy/treats!
When I left the UK some 5 years ago, Halloween was becoming much more common, with our cub Scout packs and schools celebrating the event with fun-filled apple bobbing parties. Kids in the UK know to visit only those houses with pumpkins or other Halloween paraphernalia at the door/windows. Here in Canada where it is a much more long-standing tradition it seems that every house is fair game.
Yet the Halloween tradiation emanates from the UK and Celtic France; it developed over 2,000 years ago from an ancient pagan festival celebrated by the Celts The original festival was called Samhain (pronounced SOW ehn), which means “summer’s end.” It marked the onset of the dark winter season and was celebrated around November 1. In the 800’s, November 1 became known as “All Hallows/All Saints Day” and this became a new Christian holiday. AND the evening before All Hallows’ was known as All Hallows’ Eve, or – and you know where this is going right? – All Hallow e’en. shortened eventually to Halloween.
Halloween’s association with the occult is longstanding In the 1500’s and 1600’s, in Europe, superstition had it that the devil made witches do evil deeds and that on Halloween witches and their black cats flew around night sky on broomsticks. It was also believed that on Halloween fairies and ghosts could be asked for help casting spells or seeing into the future. To ward off any unfriendly supernatural creatures, turnip lanterns carved with grotesque faces could be carried. In Scotland bonfires were lit on hillsides to drive away evil spirits and for centuries in Europe, people remembered the dead at All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 2) with bonfires. People used to leave food out on a table as a treat for spirits believed to be about on Halloween.
In England, people went house-to-house “souling” i.e. asking for small breads called soul cakes in exchange for prayers; sometimes they wore costumes when they begged house-to-house for a Halloween feast. In Wales, boys dressed as girls and girls dressed as boys to go house-to-house singing Halloween rhymes.
Jack-o-lanterns – according to an Irish legend – were named after a character named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miserly, bad-tempered man. Neither could he enter Hell, because he had tricked the devil several times. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth forever with only a coal from hell to light his lantern. Originally large beets or turnips were used as jack – o – lanterns. It wasn’t until the tradition ported over to the US that pumpkins began to be used
The images at the beginning of this posting are representative of the effort made in just one small neighbourhood here in Toronto. Shot at around 5.30 tonight (Monday), the ghouls, ghosts, pumpkins and spider-webs accompanied me on an hour’s glorious wander around the ravine area of North Lawrence. Starting at the exclusive Rosedale Golf Course with the ravine stretching away into the distance and bound east and west by clouds of burnt gold, orange, copper, yellow and bright green foliage, I followed the ravine edge on the road as far as I could go and then cut into Hoggs Hollow; coming out on Yonge and then cutting back down Snowden to luxuriate in this very elite area of  country estate properties – all mock Tudor and mullioned windows. No city sounds here; just birds, the breeze rustling through the trees; the scrunching underfoot of mounds of crisp fragrant maple leaves and the hum of more than a few leaf blowers as private gardening contractors race to clear the massive landscaped gardens of their continually renewing coverlet of leaves. Virtually every house in the area is decorated with some sort of autumn/Halloween décor. The many and varied trees –  which are Toronto’s hallmark – and what is left of their fall foliage frame roads, pavements and lawns  strewn with the multi-colour leaf confetti of the last few days. The assault on the eyes of  glorious fall colour, the smell of leaf mulch, wood smoke and freshly trodden leaves; unseasonably warm weather and the golden glow of late evening sun highlighting the top-note colours of the trees –  this is unquestionably my favourite time of year. I know that no sooner have the pumpkins faded and the cobwebs dissolved;  the ghouls and ghosts will be spirited away and, replaced immediately by Christmas lights. The whole neighbourhood – snow or no snow will transform into the usual Christmas wonderland.
BUT in the meantime on Sunday night the streets will be awash with tiny and not so tiny Disney, Twighlight and Harry Potter characters wit just a smattering of the traditional, witches and blood spattered zombies, all clutching their swag bags full to the brim with lollipops, tootsie rolls and Cadbury minis.
And I can guarantee that none of them will be knocking on doors asking for cakes in exchange for prayers.
Over and Out

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