At summer’s end, the days grow shorter and colder, and the leaves turn to reds and golden. Soon there will be winter cold, frost painted windows and long, dark nights. The world seems to have grown old and decayed, waiting for death.

The early inhabitants of Europe, called the Celts, believed that a veil between this world and the next was thinnest at this time of year. Friends and family who had died would often return, with their souls inhabiting an animal – often a black cat. Black cats are still a symbol of Halloween.

Jack-o'-Lantern by By Toby Ord

Jack-o’-Lantern by By Toby Ord

On the 31st October, they celebrated the fire festival, Samhain. Sacred bonfires were lit on the tops of hills in honor of the Gods. The early Christian church frequently chose dates of ancient festivals for Christian celebrations. Samhain became All Hallows Eve when all the Christian saints were celebrated. All Hallows Eve became corrupted into Halloween.

As with Christmas traditions, some of the older festivals remained and there are many folk traditions associated with Halloween. It is possible that some had their origins in Celtic times and, strangely, many require apples.

  • Single people would try to take a bite out of an apple bobbing in a bucket of water or suspended on a string. The first person to do so was believed to be the next to marry.
  • A young maid would peel an apple in front of a candle-lit mirror might see the face of her future husband.
  • People would attempt to produce a long unbroken ribbon of apple peel. The longer the peel, the longer would be life expectancy.

Although 85% of Americans are Christian, they celebrate Halloween more than most. The children dress up in fancy dress and visit the neighbors. This is called Trick or Treating. Traditional the children are given candy. This year will be my grandson’s first Halloween Trick or Treating. He has a cow costume and has learned to moo!

Día de los Muertos

Dia de los muertos

Dia de los muertos

In Mexico, they have a spectacular celebration around this time called Día de los Muertos which translated from Spanish as Day of the Dead. Families visit their ancestor’s graves and decorated them with flowers and candles. They prepare sumptuous meals usually featuring meat dishes in spicy sauces, chocolate beverages, cookies, sugary confections in a variety of animal or skull shapes, and a special egg-batter bread (“pan de muerto,” or bread of the dead). Then they have a midnight picnic by the graveside.

These traditions honor the departed and celebrate life, the passing year and the spring to come.

Guy Fawkes night

In England, there is another kind of celebration which is called Bonfire night. During the 17th Century in Europe, there were terrible wars between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians. England had its own church which was kind of Protestant. A group of radical Catholics wanted a Catholic England and hatched a plan to kill the king. The plan was to blow up the king with gunpowder at the ceremony which opens Parliament on the 5th November 1605. This poem tells the tale.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.
And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was born on 13 April 1570 in Stonegate, Yorkshire. His father, Edward, worked for the Archbishop of York and his mother, Edith, belonged to the Harrington family who was eminent merchants and Aldermen of York. At that time, many people including the nobles were closet Catholics.

Gunpowder_Plot_conspirators by By Crispijn van de Passe the Elder

Gunpowder_Plot_conspirators by By Crispijn van de Passe the Elder

When Guy was eight his father died and after a while, his mother married Dionysius (or Dennis) Bainbridge. Dionysius was apparently “more ornamental than useful”. Guy’s parents used up Guy’s meager inheritance while he was legally still only a child. As did not have any money but was too well borne to become a farmer, he did what many did and became a soldier.

He probably left England in 1593 for Flanders, which is now Holland and the northern part of Belgium, and joined the Spanish army. By then, he must have been a Catholic because Spain was a Catholic country and an enemy of England. In the summer of 1588, the Spanish King Philip II had sent his Armada to invade and conquer England. The English still remember how this formidable foe was beaten first by Sir Francis Drake and his fire ships, and then by ferocious storms in the North Sea.

By 1596 Guy was an officer and took part in the siege of Calais. He was described at this time “most distinguished” for his “nobility and virtue”. Guy’s appearance by now was most impressive. He was a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, flowing mustache, and a bushy reddish-brown beard. His “considerable fame among soldiers”, perhaps acquired at the Battle of Nieuport (1600) where it is believed he was wounded, brought him to the attention of Sir William Stanley and Father William Baldwin.

In February 1603, Guy left the Spanish Army and was sent to Spain by Stanley and Baldwin. About Easter time, Stanley presented Guy to Thomas Wintour and went with him and Robert Catesby to meet the Constable of Castile, Juan De Velasco.

In May of 1604, Guy was back in England, despite that he was a famous soldier fighting for the Spanish king. In an inn called the Duck and Drake in the fashionable Strand district of London, he met Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, John Wright and Thomas Wintour. They swore an oath to blow up the king and so started the Gunpowder Plot. Guy assumed the identity of John Johnson, a servant of Percy. The plan was to kill the king and all his nobles when the king came to Parliament. They would blow them up with gunpowder. First of all they tried to dig under the Houses of Parliament, but that proved too slow and difficult.


About March 1605, the conspirators hired a cellar beneath Parliament, Guy filled the room with barrels of powder, hidden beneath iron bars and bundles of wood. All was set and they waited. Guy went back to Flanders. Then one of the conspirators wrote a letter of warning to Lord Monteagle, who received it on 26th October. Although he conspirators knew about this letter the following day, they resolved to continue the plot after Guy had confirmed that nothing had been touched in the cellar. They were very, very mistaken. Lord Monteagle had given the letter to the Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Howard, the King’s chief policeman.

On November 4th, a Monday afternoon, Howard and Monteagle searched the parliament buildings. In the cellar, they came upon an unusually large pile of billets of iron and faggots of wood, and Guy. They described him as “a very bad and desperate fellow”. They asked him who owned the big pile, and Guy replied that it belonged to Thomas Percy, his employer. The two nobles reported these details to the King. Something was not right. Guy “seemed to be a man shrewd enough, but up to no good” so, a little before midnight, they searched the cellar again. Once more, the pile of billets and faggots was searched and this time the gunpowder was discovered. Guy was arrested. He had slow matches and touchwood. with which he would have “blown up the house, himself, and all”.

He was led before the King, who sent him to the Tower of London where he was brutally interrogated and tortured. Eventually, he gave up the names of the other conspirators. They were all condemned and all met a grizzly end.

The tradition of Guy Fawkes-related bonfires actually began the very same year as the failed coup, in 1605. Already on the 5th, agitated Londoners who knew little more than that their King had been saved, joyfully lit bonfires in thanksgiving. Soon, people began placing effigies of Guy Fawkes on to bonfires, and then fireworks were added to the celebrations. When I was a lad, children would make “the Guy”, and then take it in a pram to a busy street, perhaps by a railway station, and beg passersby for “a penny for the Guy.”. How much money was actually used for fireworks is anyone’s guess. On the night itself, the Guy is placed on top of the bonfire, which is then set alight; and fireworks displays fill the sky.

My Best-est Bonfire Night ever

When I worked in a hospital laboratory, most of us were socialists and hated the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. One year I made a Mrs. Thatcher Guy. The clever Principle Biochemist, known universally a Pudding because he was from Yorkshire, brought a lovely blue suit from a jumble sale, just the kind that Margaret wore. Someone bought a Mrs. Thatcher Halloween mask and a wig and went to work to fashion the dummy out of chicken wire and papier-mâché.


It was rather good as it evolved into a sincere hunchback, which looked so evil that I was told to get it out of the flat. It spent the next few days in a little room off the warren which was our lab. One night, our secretary Cherry had been working late, and as she was finishing, she walked through the lab to leave a document for Pudding and met John, the biochemist on call, Although Cherry denied it, John heard a definite sweak and returned ashen-faced.

On the following Saturday, I took the Mrs. Thatcher Guy to our Bonfire Party. It was held at the Surbiton Hockey Club, which was a very nice place and exactly where there were loads of people who thought Mrs. Thatcher was just the bee’s knees. The Guy sat in state in the main dance room. Somehow, she acquired a short middle-aged woman dressed in tweeds and wearing a tweed hat, who hovered around the paper mâché stateswoman and seemed to hobnob with her. The only complaint about the Guy was an ironical aside to Helen who had had nothing to do with the production. Before midnight I gathered a band of children and we all went out a threw Mrs. Thatcher onto the bonfire.

Other people’s Bonfire Night

The extent of the celebrations and the size of the bonfire varies from one community to the next. Lewes, in the South East of England, is famous for its Bonfire Night festivities and consistently attracts thousands of people each year to participate. Bonfire Night is not only celebrated in Britain. The tradition crossed the oceans and established itself in the British colonies during the centuries. It was actively celebrated in New England as late as the 18th century. Today, November 5th bonfires still light up in far-out places like New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada.

Bonfire Recipes

One year, I was invited to a Bonfire night in the Buckinghamshire countryside. The price of admission was a single, expensive firework. Mine was a two-feet-long rocket, which cost ₤50. The guys who let off the fireworks had a field day, carefully protected with face masks and thick asbestos gloves.

The traditional party afterward was bangers and mash – sausages and mashed potatoes, and baked beans. Followed by lashing of ice cream. After collecting my paper plate of bangers and mash, I looked for somewhere to sit down. Every seat was taken, so I sat on the floor. As I’d studied Aikido for a long time, I did it the most efficient manner, just folding up my legs and dropping to the floor; just like a small child. That someone thought I was one was confirmed when a four-year-old girl came over to me and said, “You won’t get any pudding.” Her mother translated her as encouraging me to consume my plat principle in order to get the ice cream.

After pudding, the children were taken off to bed, and the adults danced the night away, to Glam Rock.

Treacle Toffee To Stick Jaws Shut


  • 2 1/2 cups soft brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup demerera sugar (crystalized, light brown sugar)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup black treacle
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar

Recommended equipment: Candy Thermometer.

Before you start, butter a low-side cake-tin and set aside, you’ll be pouring the toffee in it for setting later.

Place ingredients in large heavy pan and heat slowly, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Then, cover and bring to a strong boil. To keep mixture from sticking to the bottom, stir for the next 10 minutes, or until your mixture reaches 280ºF.

If you don’t have a candy thermometer and you want to check that your mixture is ready, drop a little of the mixture, into a glass of cold water. If it forms a hard ball, then the toffee is ready to be set.

Pour into the tin you prepared and let cool.

When the toffee is half set, mark it into squares. When the toffee is hard, break it up, and eat inordinate amounts.

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