Making ‘dead bread’

The scary day of Halloween has been with us for two thousand years. It started with the Celtic people, they had 31st October and they called it the eve of all hallows. They believed that the souls of the dead return to earth the following year and invade the bodies of living people. Because they didn’t want that, the Celts created a lot of scary masks and costumes and they imitated the demons which they wished to banish. They danced around the fire, making a lot of noise and they tried to banish the spirits as far away as possible from human habitations. In one way they wanted to be nice to the ghosts, making food especially for the ghouls. It’s really interesting that still in some of the Polish regions people make ‘dead bread’ and bread for the souls. This tradition has the same meaning as the Celtic tradition. Since the 19th century this unusual custom travelled across the Atlantic with Irish emigrants. Halloween was adopted by the new nation in America. On the night between October 31st and November 1st, Halloween lovers re-enact the traditions of the ancient celts and don the costumes of ghosts, ghouls and witches and parade around the streets. But this day has different meaning. Today it’s just a bit of harmless fun. Children are to be found in funny costumes going house to house knocking on doors and they want some sweets. If they don’t get them they can scare the occupants. This tradition called ‘Trick or Treat’ also has roots in the middle ages. Christians in the middle ages when they celebrated All Souls Day, they travelled from village to village asking for sweets for the souls or bread with raisins (I understand now why in the shops in recent days we have a lot of sultana breads). If they get some sweets they promised to pray for the holy souls. A characteristic element or picture of halloween is the pumpkin with holes for eyes and nose. Very often with a lamp inside. This tradition, called a ‘Jack-o-Lantern’, started from the Irish legend about Jack, a tramp who was always drunk. He convinced the devil that he can go up a tree and later create etch a cross into the tree and the devil couldn’t go back to earth. When Jack died he couldn’t go to heaven because of all the sins he had committed but he couldn’t go to hell because of his deal with the devil. So the devil decided to give him a turnip with a light inside and he can light the way on endless trips in the dark. In the modern world, instead of turnip we have big pumpkins. We have been celebrating Halloween for a few years now in Poland. Some love it and others hate it. Some people create their Jack-o-Lanterns and buy scary costumes or organise parties in the dark. Another group are really set against the idea because they think that this day is a profanation of the feast of the Holy Souls and they don’t accept this anglicised tradition. On one Catholic blog, I even read that Halloween promotes satanic lifestyles. But the Polish schizophrenic nature is the topic for another column. One thing is for sure, Halloween and the holy souls, they are two different things, so without any problems we can banish the ghouls on October 31st and take out the candles for the holy souls the following day. You may laugh, but I have opted to put a lighted pumpkin in my window. In this way I want to scare away the bad ghosts. The ghosts aren’t real. The real ghosts are the debt collectors, who follow up on the unpaid bills and the unexpected visit from the mother-in-law and this kind of scary things.