In Edinburgh tonight, kids will be knocking on their neighbours’ doors and singing an irritating little jingle:
Hallowe’en is coming, the geese are getting fat,
please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny a ha’penny will do,
if you haven’t got a ha’penny then god bless you!
This irritates me because the first I ever heard of this as a Hallowe’en tradition was 20 years ago: Wikipedia claims that the song “Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat” was first popularised in 1960 in an album The Last Month of the Year by an American folk-singing group “The Kingston Trio”, Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds: and reappeared in Muppets and in Charlie Brown Christmas films. But that seems – typically for Hallowe’en – a very American-orientated explanation: the nursery rhyme is much older than the 20th century and it was always Christmas, not Hallowe’en.
According to multiple websites the “tradition” of singing this particular rhyme is from Belfast/Northern Ireland: how it spread from there to the rest of the UK is unexplained and how a much older Christmas rhyme turned into a Hallowe’en rhyme doesn’t seem to have been questioned by anyone.
I assumed when I first heard it, in the early 1990s, that the English tradition of “Penny for the guy!” had mutated and bred with the fear of letting your children accept sweets from strangers, to birth a new generation of kids who would, bluntly, rather have the money than a stranger’s choice of sweeties. (Or fruit.)
When we went out guising, it was on the strict understanding that you could accept coins if they were offered, but the tradition was sweets and that was what you mostly got, unless you knocked on the door of someone who hadn’t expected to be interrupted on Hallowe’en. After all, the tradition is based on the dead coming back and going from house to house seeking food. (“Braaaaiins…”)
Also, we made lanterns out of turnips, not pumpkins, which is much harder work but produces a much more robust lantern. Who else remembers the smell of candle-burned neeps with affection? And we used to dook for apples, despite the huge health risks of everyone plunging their face into the same bucket of water – death by drowning, if the Hallowe’en Party was written by Agatha Christie – and we walked to school uphill both ways in the snow. You modern kids have it easy. Etc.
The American tradition seems to be that you hand out huge quantities of special Hallowe’en candy to children who show up in fancy dress carrying pillow slips, more than any child could possibly eat without developing diabetes. Cakespy is full of, ahem, interesting ideas about what to do with the leftover Hallowe’en candy in November. (Especially if it’s candy corn, which is a particularly corny candy tradition…) Still, better that than the other American tradition, handing out horror stories. Or the new American tradition, complaining about the weather.
On the other hand, this looks like a good thing to do with the pumpkin seeds. Though the whole pumpkin thing is very North American: and it’s not worth trying to cook the sort of big pumpkin you carve into a lantern.
Cake is nicer. (These are all cakes, including the one in the middle.)
A real-life horror:
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