For example, the Scottish and Northern English used to refer to Halloween as Nutcrack Night. Twas the season for fortune telling. Picture folks sitting around the fire as the air takes on a chill, roasting and steaming local chestnuts. A gentleman would give a nut the name of a potential suitor, let’s call her Lois, and pop it into the fire along with his own. If the two nuts burned slowly and quietly together things between Niels and Lois were copacetic. If the nuts jumped apart in the fire, probably best to move on to Sarah, even if she does have a wooden leg and a wandering eye. Besides, everyone knows Lois lifts her skirt above the ankle for every Tom, Dick and Baldrick who asks. I am frankly amazed this term never took off in the states. In less time then it would take to write and rewrite this sentence, I could walk outside my apartment and find you ten nutcracks, easy.
As for trick or treating, its origins may come from a ritual during All Souls Day, a catholic holiday to honor the dead, where children would go door to door singing prayers for the departed in return for soul cakes. This was supposed to help the dead escape from purgatory. If this is the same tradition that motivated a young Heidi to gnaw on her halloween candy directly out of the freezer (my mother’s failed attempt to get me to eat one piece at a time “for special occasions only”) then we can assume I am personally responsible for sending a large number of enthusiastic souls to the pearly gates. Glad to do my part. You can all thank me later.
Thanks to a post from the incredibly funny Ilana over at Mommy Shorts, I was inspired to Google search another Halloween ritual. Imagine you’re at a party with all your little friends. A vat of liquid stands before you. Muscled hands hold your wrists captive. With a cruel swish your head is plunged into an icy tub filled with red orbs bashing against your teeth and lips. If ever there was a game designed to teach children about water boarding, it is bobbing for apples. There seem to be both Roman and Celtic connections to this tradition. No matter the origin, turns out this ritual is all about divination. If you catch an apple first, you catch a mate first. If only I had known on the one gruesome occasion when I tried this activity that the stakes were so high, I might have been more motivated. All I hoped for at the end was a towel and a light sedative. Come to think of it that does sound a lot like the dating life I eventually acquired.
In case you were wondering, a man named Ashrita Furman holds the world record for most apples bobbed in a minute, 34 to be exact. There is no mention of him having a spouse however, so that kind of blows that theory out of the water. He also holds the record for most apples cut in midair with a samurai sword, although it’s hard to imagine there are many competitors in that field. Additionally he holds a record for something called cucumber snapping. I don’t know what that is exactly, but it sounds pornographically painful and may explain why he’s still single.
Finally, in my quest for all things Halloween I discovered that the candy-tampering hysteria of my seventies youth was a total myth. Remember all those warnings about razor blades hiding in unsuspecting candy? Utter claptrap. Is nothing sacred in this world? I suppose next you’ll be telling me no one ever died from eating Pop Rocks and drinking a Pepsi? You know what this means, don’t you? Obviously my mother perpetrated this hoax on the American people in an effort to get me to ease up on the candy bars. (I think you’ve all read by now about my issues with chocolate.) So for all you seventies children out there who were traumatized by having a suspicious Charleston Chew wrenched out of your greedy fist, my sincere apologies. I’ll tell mom you’re annoyed.
Happy Nutcrack Night everyone. As the curtain between the spirit world and ours grows thin, I wish you much dark chocolate consumption and little increase in cellulite.