Halloween is here and this evening, it is very likely that you will get a knock on the door. When you answer it, you will probably be confronted with a child dressed as a witch, or a famous superhero or even a headless ghost. They will charm you, and you will fall for their charms. And then, they will demand candy in return for not messing up your front doorstep. This has become the modern Halloween tradition that we all recognise.
But Halloween is not just a contemporary combination of a fancy dress party and a sugar-rush. It is an ancient festival, dedicated to remembering the dead and is thought to have evolved from ancient Celtic harvest festivals with pagan roots.
From pagan roots to hobby horses
Over the years, we have become familiar with the most recent incarnations of those ancient rituals. These include pumpkin carving, costume parties, telling scary ghost stories and generally spooking people out. But before the current tradition of trick or treat began, earlier versions were taking place.
From as early as the 16th century, the tradition of mumming was common in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. People went from house to house exchanging songs and verse for food. In those days, they would dress up as the souls of the dead. At around the same time, over in England, a man with a hobby horse led youths from house to house reciting verses with pagan overtones. And in Scotland people in masks went from door to door threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed.
Turnips, pumpkins and cross-dressing Scots
Fast forward to the late 19th and early 20th century and it appears that the youth of Glamorgan and Orkney went for a bit of cross-dressing. In the 20th century, the pranks became more common in England as well and naughty kids would hollow out turnips and carve grotesque faces in them to use as lanterns. These in turn became the Jack ‘O’ Lanterns that we now carve out of pumpkins.
Echoes of these roots can still be glimpsed in our 21st century version of Halloween. And given the year we’re in, strangers knocking on your doors in masks may have a particular resonance.
Manning the barricades
So, if you’re planning on manning the barricades this Halloween, it’s best to be prepared. Obviously, you’ll need a large bag of assorted candy to ward off the ghosts and ghouls – and a strong gin cocktail to keep your own spirits up.
And what cocktail could be better than a Corpse Reviver?
This classic cocktail was invented by the eminent Harry Craddock, original head bartender at the American Bar of the Savoy (and all round legend). It features in his famous Savoy Cocktail Book, first published in 1930. Ever helpful, right underneath the recipe, Harry offers the following advice:
Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.Harry Craddock
TOP TIP: We don’t necessarily recommend downing four in a row, unless you really want to see spirits. But one or two won’t do you any harm. And it will help you to deal with those pesky Halloweeners outside your front door.
Harry Craddock’s original recipe for a Corpse Reviver No.2:
- ¼ wine glass of lemon juice
- ¼ wine glass of Lillet Blanc
- ¼ wine glass of Cointreau
- ¼ wine glass of London Dry gin
- 1 dash of absinthe
Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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