Saturday, October 29, 2011

The True Meaning of Halloween

The scene out my back window right now. Yeah, that's snow.
As I'm sure some of you know, Halloween has its origin in the Celtic festival held on November 1st; the Irish called it Samhain (and the Scots call it Samhuinn, which is essentially the same thing), the Welsh call it Calan Gaeaf; the former means "End of Summer" and the latter "The First Day of Winter". And while there are lots of associations with things like faeries and ghosts and a thin veil between this world and the Otherworld, it's also deeply associated with the harvest, with getting the food in for the winter.

Because the holiday we now call Halloween was originally the eve of the first day of winter, as evident in the names I listed above. This, of course, is why the winter solstice is called Midwinter--because it fell between the beginning of winter on November 1st, and the end of winter on February 1, called Imbolc in Irish and Candlemas in English (and surviving in the US as Groundhog's Day, which has its own tradition of predicting the coming of spring).

Halloween is the beginning of winter. We're far enough from the equinox to notice that the nights are getting longer, the weather is cold, the mornings have frost. It's not hard to see how this transition, this slide into the dark time of the year brought us associations with death; the plants are dying, the harvest is reaped, the animals are slaughtered* to be cured and eaten over the winter. It's only natural that death is on the mind, and from that closeness with our dying environment, we draw closer to our own departed.  Both the Dead and Winter are integral parts of Halloween; in fact, I'd say they're inseparable.

So it's with no small amount of amusement and annoyance** that I woke up to see it snowing on October 29th. It's really unusual for us to get snow in October here in the Philly suburbs; I mean, we've occasionally gotten a few flakes, but so far we've got at least three inches, probably four, and it's not going to stop snowing until tonight. We're not ready for this kind of weather--none of us were. Our decorations are getting blasted by the wind and snow; I hope that the rubber bats and spider don't disappear on us.

So my husband and I are spending the day watching Halloween cartoons, eating the food for a cancelled party, and drinking, and occasionally going out to shovel the walk.

We're getting the real meaning of this old Celtic holiday--winter isn't coming, it's already here, kids.

Consider this Nature's Trick; the treat is... um... I guess it looks nice?

*In fact, in Welsh the month of November is called Tachwedd meaning "slaughter"; compare with the Anglo-Saxon name for November, Blōtmōnaþ, "blood month".

**Annoyance, as it has resulted in me having to postpone my Halloween party for a week. At which point it's not a Halloween party, is it? I guess we'll call it a Guy Fawkes Party, or something.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Husband Has Accused Me Of Being a Hobbit

A trip to the Lansdale Farmers' Market on Saturday gave me a chance to pick up some fresh mushrooms--in this case, portobello and shitake. Now, living in southeastern Pennsylvania, we are lucky to live in mushroom central, and so the mushrooms you pick up are often picked within a few days, unlike what you get at the supermarket. (This particular provider also picks local wild mushrooms, like Hen of the Woods, which I'll have to try next time--which means more soup!)

What does any of this have to do with the usual geeky content of this blog? My husband, seeing me so excited about the mushrooms, accused me of being a hobbit:
Hobbits have a passion for mushrooms, surpassing even the greediest likings of Big People. A fact which partly explains young Frodo's long expeditions to the renowned fields of the Marish, and the wrath of the injured Maggot.
Yeah, there's a lot of eating in Lord of the Rings, and much of it involves mushrooms.

And so today I decided to try and make my own mushroom soup. See, one of the things I liked at my old job was the soup in the cafeteria--it was just Au Bon Pain, but the mushroom bisque was really delicious (if probably horribly fatty). It's simple enough, actually--especially since I cheated a little and used beef bouillon for the base. (Hey, after making navy bean soup from scratch, including boiling a ham bone for a couple of hours, bouillon feels like a cheat.) Also, a little bit of cream and a lot of roue works just as well (for me) as a lot of cream. I'm sure my doctor will appreciate that.

I also racked the mead I started in January; that will hopefully head out as Christmas gifts.