I don’t know how it is in your neighborhood, but mine is starting to get pretty spooky. Mummies, skeletons, and witches peek out from behind trees jumping, unwelcome, into my periphery. I love my neighbors, and they love Halloween, so I won’t really complain, but I admit, I’m not a big fan of this holiday coming up tomorrow.
As far as I can tell, fear isn’t a particularly enjoyable sensation. I have never understood the point of haunted houses or scary movies. I don’t like being startled. And I really don’t like nightmares.
But even though all of that is true, my family still observes Halloween, because I really do enjoy handing out candy to all of the creatively costumed kids and to the crowds of tiny Disney Princesses. As long as they don’t ring the doorbell past bedtime, I can even appreciate the clearly-too-old-to-participate teenagers that cut eye holes in their moms’ best sheets and show up on my doorstep.
My kiddos are all set, too. Their costumes have been pieced together and we’ve developed a plan for warm layers underneath because, of course, the meteorologists tell us that Halloween night may be bringing our first freeze of the season and I have worked too hard on these costumes to simply have them wear their coats.
All that’s left is for me to figure out what the heck we are going to do with all that candy. Because, as I mentioned, my neighbors seem to love Halloween and I love my neighbors, so I will not refuse their generosity.
But trick-or-treating is kind of a strange tradition, isn’t it? It’s generally assumed that the practice is derived from the Celtic festival of Samhain. Observed as far back as at least 2000 years, Samhain marked an important seasonal transition and a time when the spirits of the deceased were believed to walk the earth again.
Since it’s probably not smart to presume all wandering spirits are friendly, gifts of food (mostly KitKats, I assume) were often left for them by the living who also cut eye holes in their moms’ best sheets or donned Disney princess dresses so any unfriendlies might not notice them.
800 years later, when the Church decided to Christianize the Celts, Samhain became a problem. It’s really difficult to overcome superstition and the desire to give KitKats to tiny Disney princesses. What the Church decided to do was commandeer the holiday and transform it into Hallowtide, a festival encompassing All Hallow’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day, from October 31 to November 2.
Instead of fearing evil wandering spirits, the holiday became about honoring and praying for the departed. By the 11th Century, the Church had come to be pretty cool with the idea of dressing up as angels, demons, and Disney princesses as a part of the celebration and soon the tradition of “guising” emerged. Children (and probably a few neighborhood teens who were clearly too old to participate) knocked on doors, often with a song, to beg for food or money in exchange for prayers offered up for the dead. The beggars became known as “soulers” and the treat most often given was called a “soul cake.”
Soul cakes were small and round, often with crosses marked on the top. I can’t find a recipe, but rumor has it they were sweet cakes with things like ginger, raisins, and not nearly enough KitKats in them. I’m betting that’s why the tradition has evolved from “if you give me a treat, I’ll pray for you” to “if you don’t give me a KitKat I’ll egg your house.”
But the soul cake does give me an idea of how I can deal with the massive amount of candy that will be entering my house tomorrow night. I’m going to take a lesson form the early Christian Church and commandeer my children’s candy bags (after letting them eat A LOT of candy on Halloween night, I promise) and re-purpose as many of the sweet treats as I can into baked goods that I will serve to friends and neighbors during the coming, more cheerful holiday season.
I have been scouring the Internet for recipes that will help me do just that. My favorite so far is this one for KitKat Cookie Bars. If you know others, please feel free to share. And keep in mind that if you don’t, I just might egg your house.