Today’s column is me fighting back against the triumphalism of Trump.
I sent an email to my twenty-something offspring during the week, reminding them (again) of the reason why they should be prouder of their ancient Celtic heritage.
I am always annoyed by the way America seems to think it owns Halloween, a festival which is actually ancient, Celtic and Irish.
It drives me bonkers to hear young Irish people talking about trick or treating, ‘fright night’ or the joys of carving a scary pumpkin as if those American traditions were the essence of Halloween.
Take the pumpkin. This outsize orange monstrosity is nothing but a pale imitation of an ancient tradition underlying the ancient Celtic season-marker, Samhain, which started back in the dawn of time in Ireland and is the predecessor of the modern Halloween festival as we know it today.
The traditional carved turnip, or ‘ghost turnip,’ was a crucial part of Samhain celebrations.
This old Irish tradition of carving turnips into scary lanterns to ward off evil, inspired the American carved pumpkins which have, alas, become almost a universal symbol for Halloween. The carving of the pumpkin then, is nothing but a follow-on.
And as for trick or treating? This is actually a re-take of the old Irish tradition ‘guising’ — ‘guisers’ (men or children dressed in disguise) went from house to house wearing masks and costumes to frighten the neighbours. The visitors provided entertainment in order to secure a treat from the household. It was often known as ‘mischief night.’ The modern-day Yankee-inspired practice of ‘trick or treating’ stems from this old Irish tradition.
So up yours, Donald Trump!
Clodagh Doyle, who is the National Museum of Ireland’s foremost expert on traditional Irish festivals will tell you that many of the Halloween celebrations we enjoy today owe their origins to our Celtic ancestors.
Halloween is actually the eve of Samhain, which falls on November 1 and which was one of four seasonal markers or ancient Quarter Days. It signalled the onset of winter and like most Irish festivals, the main festivities took place on the night beforehand, in this case October 31. Clodagh says that all the traditions involving disguise, death, fruit and nuts, as well as games and tricks were part of the Halloween tradition and still are today, when, sadly, less and less of the old Halloween accessories in terms of food and disguise are home-made — increasingly, supermarkets do the barmbrack and the costumes and the Americans take all the credit.
CHRISTMAS CAKE MAKING
The first time I made my own Christmas cake, I thought I’d get it done in a day.
It came as an unpleasant shock that a good Christmas cake has to be done in stages, and more often than not, start to finish, can take several weeks.
It’s an unexpectedly military-style operation, about which I was graphically, though not prematurely, reminded when I read a copy of Alice Taylor’s latest book during the week.
The ever-prolific Taylor’s 24th book ,, arrived on the bookshelves this week, although it’s not being formally launched til November 10 in Innishannon.
In it, Taylor pays homage to the ever-popularpublished seasonal journal, the , and talks about her annual Christmas visit to Bride Park Cottage in Kilumney, which for many years threw open its doors to the public as a charity fundraiser. She also recalls her mother’s Christmas cake. This concoction featured Muscatel raisins and thick sour cream, and required huge care in the preparation, mixing and baking.
All of this got me to thinking about my own recipe which doesn’t have sour cream but does feature strawberries and dark chocolate and requires much of the same preparation, work and care.
In fact, given the busyness of our lives these days (and the fact that I’m no longer a huge fan of the festive season for various reasons) the thought of the cake project alone is nearly enough to spend Christmas in Lanzarote.
First of all I have to dig out our home-made book of Christmas recipes, which includes the four-page A-Z of shopping for, preparing, baking, double-icing and decorating the Christmas cake.
Despite my best efforts to ensure it is put away somewhere safe in the days after Christmas, this bible goes missing every single year. It can be unearthed anywhere from the hot press to underneath a mound of saucepans in the cupboard or the dog’s basket. Once I get my paws on it I sit down, make The List and go shopping. That takes most of the first day, usually a Saturday.
The following Saturday, we will start the mixing of the fruit, the ground almonds, the strawberries, the grated chocolate and the brandy. This has to be left to soak overnight.
That Sunday is the day for preparing the cake tin inside and out, a job which requires much measuring and cutting. It’s a chore I detest and have never yet managed to do correctly so I hand it over to either my son or my husband, who have the time, patience (and the necessary pedantic mind-set) to do it right.
Meanwhile I mix the cake, which has to be baked for anything up to four hours and must be tested regularly with a skewer. When it comes out of the oven, you skewer the top gently a few times and pour some brandy or whiskey over, before leaving it to settle in its tin overnight. Next day you gratefully, and with no small sense of relief, wrap the damn thing in more greaseproof paper and do your best to forget about it until you have time to do the icing.
Of course you’re not completely off the hook — in between wrapping and icing, you have to remember to add a few more tea-spoons of brandy or whiskey now and again.
Sometime in early December, comes the home-made almond icing phase. Making this stuff is relatively easy. Fitting it onto the cake is not. It involves another hilariously military-style operation involving not a little measuring and cutting. Again I tend to leave that side of it to the men.
Finally, a weekend or two after that comes the white icing and the decorating. By that stage it’s nearly Christmas and all the other wonderful festive preparations are plunging down the mountain onto your sagging shoulders. I’d love to know what time-rich, anti-feminist sadist invented the Christmas cake?