Tag Archives: happy halloween

Custom contrived: Sheffield Fright Night

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A nice couple

The urban city landscape can be a scary place for some. As the nights draw in, all manner of strange personages, loping characters and menacing youths appear from the shadows…in Sheffield the week before Hallowe’en these are the attendees of Fright Night, the country’s only Hallowe’en parade! This is a parade attracting over 40,000 people to the town, the majority dressed for the occasion. The whole of the city centre appears to be swallowed up by this spooky spectacle.

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Bit of a youth problem?

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How long have you been a crazed psychopath?

Fright on time

I arrived as the day’s light was fading. The first thing which hits one if the funfair and in this case the ghost train is not the scariest thing! Then bang coming towards you is a youth with bloody clothes and an axe. Usually I’d hide or run, but you quickly realise that its Michael Myers of the Hallowe’en film franchise and it’s nothing to worry about!! Tonight the city is full of crazed lunatics, monsters and aliens in the name of celebrating this ancient tradition of remembering the dead.

Fright thing to do

Fright night begun in 2001 in a city with perhaps the strongest pre-Stateside trick or treat tradition for the villages around and perhaps most of the city celebrated Cakin Night, which appears to have died out in the 1990s. Fright Nights almost laissez-fair attitude to the appearance of goblins, werewolves, superheroes and vampires is much in keeping with that tradition, almost normalising dressing up, indeed the people wandering around had a certain ‘we do this all the time…don’t you’. So perhaps this is a sort of revival and hopefully those in the ‘anti-US trick or treat’ camp may realise this soon rather than condemn it as another Americanisation! Halloween is a European tradition (see October’s post last year)

Death walks amongst us!

Unlike the Stateside versions, namely that regularly done in NYC, there is no real parade as such…rather a catwalk. Here, a local DJ calls on the stage a cavalcade of curious concoctions and in typical radio fashion asked things like ‘how did you make your open wound so realistic?’ or ‘what are you?’ in some cases as the costumes ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Those who had put the most effort in were more than happy to pose for photographs attempting their best fearsome grimace often under layers on impenetrable make up.

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A digital monster!

The festival has a number of different aspects including a Zombie enclosure, a living dead chorus line and most impressive sight of all a ghost galleon which glided down the streets with its crew menacing peering out and staring with dead eyes with all those seen. Another highlight was the impressive carved pumpkins, not just grinning faces but even scenes as well, putting my efforts deep in the shade.

More scary than you first thought!

More scary than you first thought

Fright Night, perhaps the UK’s greatest commercialisation of this odd day and although the closest to the US, has still a very English style and needs to supporting especially as it’s free.  Finally the best thing perhaps about Fright Night is that most years it’s always before Hallowe’en meaning when you’re stuck for ideas you’ll get your inspiration here. Come along a feel the thrill! Happy Halloween!

– images copyright Pixyled Publications

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Now that’s a pumpkin!

Custom revived: Halloween Guisering or Trick or Treating



Damn American custom…Japanese Knotweed of festivals

Ask any person on the night of Halloween and many will be against Halloween’s most famous tradition; Trick or treat. Many will give the reason as being that it has no basis in English tradition, but of course they are wrong…trick or treating did begin in Britain.


In the US, the first record of children Guisering is recorded in a newspaper in 1911 from Ontario, but interestingly by 1919, an author directly references that the customs undertaken are Scottish, as visiting other people’s homes to collect cakes, fruit and money was recorded in 1895 in Scotland.  However, the first reference of the term was in 1927 in Alberta. I have been unable to find the earliest English record of the import, it would be nice to think it came over with the American service men during the war, but as the custom itself was still not widespread in the US, being restricted to the western states, by that time this seems unlikely. The only hint of this is in Maureen Sutton’s excellent Lincolnshire Calendar, where a correspondent speaking on their childhood in the Stamford area in the 1950s notes:

“There used to 20 of us, going around one of the bigger houses of the village…we used to spend the day before hollowing out pumpkins: we used the inside to make pies and put candles in them to show a face through the hole. And we used to decorate witches hats and broomsticks and hold competitions for the best…”

The making of lanterns still continues in Somerset with Punky Night, and appears to have widespread being also recorded in Hertfordshire. However, none of these accounts explicitly refer to Trick or Treat. As regards this as a custom, it was certainly it was established in the 1970s and well established by the 1980s.

Pagan origins of the day

There is no debate on the ancient origin of the custom, a Christianised tradition based on the pagan Samhain, a Celtic celebration which was their equivalent of New Year’s Eve, when the end of the summer was recognised and winter begun. As such livestock were slaughtered and consequently the date was associated with death and the date was seen as a gateway between living and dead. It is believed that often Celts would wear animal skins and skulls and this disguise may have been the origin of the dressing up aspect of trick or treat. It was also believed that when the elementals were free to travel the real world, they dressed as beggars and asked for food door to door. It was thought that those who gave food were rewarded but if they did not the elementals would punish them, and this appears to be the origin of the trick or treat itself. However, the true origins of the custom appear after the establishment of All Saint’s Day by Pope Gregory IV on the day after the pagan tradition and thus hoping to deflect from the practices on that day. This was not successful so it appears that an establishment of Old Souls Day, honouring the non-saintly dead resulted in converting Samhain to All Hallow’s Eve and Hallowe’en was born.

But what about the Trick?

The Trick aspect of the tradition, appears to have arisen also from a Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire tradition of Mischief night. In this tradition generally associated with the day before Guy Fawkes Night is clearly has origins in the ancient Hallowe’en and perhaps was shifted when the calendar was moved in 1752. Alternatively the custom is associated with the mischief caused by the Gunpowder Plot perpetrators. Whatever its origin the rather structureless custom of tying doorknobs together, removing signs to slightly more destructive shoving fireworks through letter boxes or defacing public property clearly is the Trick of the custom

What about the treat? 

A custom established in this Christian period was providing food and drink for the spirits of the dead, this was called souling and local people would go door to door, asking for soul cakers, food for the dead. This would assist the souls of the dead through Purgatory and it is clear that after the Reformation, the practice befell the children who in Sussex they begged for a spiced bun, milk or ginger beer. Their begging song went:

“Soul! Soul! For a Soul-cake! Pray good mistress for a Soul-cake! One for Peter, two for Paul, Three for Him who made us all!”

However, it would appear that in Cheshire, the last place where this tradition has survived in England, that in exchange for the food a play would be enacted. However, in other areas the custom was a simple form a begging except for in Sheffield where the night became Cakin night. This without a doubt is the where the modern Treat tradition begun. Children would move from house to house in disguise, if they were recognised they gave a cake, but if they were not they received pennies or perhaps sweets and as such the treating was born.

A remix!

It is clear that something happened to those colonists who got their traditions mixed up, Guisering for cakes or money predates that in the USA. It is significant that many of these colonists came from Lincolnshire and Somerset where Mischief  and Punky night were still undertaken.  Thus the traditions of Mischief Night mixed with that of Soul caking, probably in a big bowl of pumpkin soup!