Moose, toques and back bacon with Karen Evenden: Halloween... from turnips to pumpkins

Halloween decorations
Halloween decorations

As a kid in the UK, Halloween usually consisted of a carved turnip (pumpkins were too expensive!) and a group of kids going door to door stating ‘trick or treat’, in regular clothing and expecting a few pennies in return.

One year some friends and I got creative and wheeled a poorly carved pumpkin around in a wheelbarrow with the wisecrack ‘Penny for the pumpkin?’. A few people complimented us on our nerve and handed over money, others told us to ‘clear off’!

Halloween in Canada is a little different. My first introduction was the one hundred plus kids that knocked on my door, in full costume! The annual Halloween party, full to the brim with guests; all in costume was another hint.

The history of Halloween dates back to a mixture of European celebrations and traditions, blending seasonal festivities and folk tales into one event.

One tale is that Halloween originated from Scotland. Samhain (pronounced ‘sah-win’) is a festival that celebrates the end of the Gaelic harvest. The Gaels believed that the 31st October was a time when the living dead would return and create mayhem by destroying crops and spreading disease. The tradition of wearing costumes was formed to imitate, scare or appease evil spirits.

‘Trick or Treating’ dates back to medieval times when the poor would go door to door on ‘Hallowmas’ (1st November) and would beg for food in return for praying for the dead.

Despite much of its history dating back to Britain and other parts of Europe, North America has taken to the celebration of Halloween with passion and enthusiasm.

In Canada it is not unusual to see houses decorated inside and out for Halloween; there is an area known as ‘Halloween Alley’ in Edmonton where almost every house in the neighbourhood decorates with so much zeal that people drive to visit the colourful area.

The Halloween costume is a project that every member of the household gets involved in. A costume can be of any variety or theme, and it’s not unusual for people to start searching for their ideal costume one or two months prior. Kids go to school in costume and most workplaces even encourage their staff to don Halloween attire for work. Parties are a given, and it’s rare to see any non-costumed resident on the night of Halloween.

There are often fun activities surrounding Halloween; one local farm, Prairie Gardens hosts a ‘Pumpkin Festival’ every weekend during October and has activities such as scarecrow making, pumpkin cannon shooting, corn maze, haunted house and wagon rides.

And I have to say, North America has taken pumpkin carving to the next level. With handy carving kits for sale at supermarkets, creative pumpkins are bountiful and fun.

All in all Halloween is becoming one of my most favourite celebrations and I’d love to tell you more, but sorry, I have to work on my costume!