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.