Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Autumn traditions in Newfoundland.

I love autumn. I love the cool days and crisp nights; the changing leaves that swirl in the wind whispering their way through the sky. Of course this fall has had none of that. Jeeze, it has been hot as balls these past few weeks. Feels like we may just skip fall and dive head long into winter- though at the rate we are going, it looks like it will be a green one.

Aside from the weather cliches, I love autumn because of all the traditions that go with it. Many of my favorites begin at harvest time, it has become and annual tradition for my husband and I to pick apples at Archibald's Orchard , and pick up a nice fruit wine for Thanksgiving at the same time. We also head on over to Pingles Farm to pick our pumpkin for Halloween- and deck the house out so it looks like a tribute to Vincent Price. And now it is something we do with our son.

Many of the autumn season's customs are historically related. Although there was no Thanksgiving Day holiday in Newfoundland Pre-Confederation, many people celebrated it as part Harvest and it included Halloween. The whole season of Halloween is a little different back home on the Rock. There are at least a half-dozen Halloween-related customs that are unique to Newfoundland, though their roots, like our ancestors, reach back to other places. We just made them our own.

For example, the few days before Halloween and sometimes after it used to be called Mischief Week. Old Newfoundland's children traditionally believed that there are certain kinds of mischief allowed at that time: stuffing sods in chimneys, soaping windows, taking pins from gate hinges, and so on. It in no way resembles the Devils night insanity that sometimes goes on across Canada and the US. Mischief week was just harmless little pranks.

In Trinity Bay North, many people participated in Torch Night, when young men would carry torches around the community in a parade. Torches were made from just about anything: from old boots soaked in fish oil, or barrels of kindling, even old dried-up tar mops; in fact the name Tar Mop Night was used in the White Bay area. And come on, is there anywhere else on the planet that still celebrates Gay Fawkes night besides the UK and Newfoundland?

I miss all that kind of stuff now. Not just because that the weather here in Ontario is all off, but that deep rooted sense of tradition and community is so lacking here. Cripes, some neighborhoods and apartment buildings don’t even allow Halloween. It is kind of sad really. And we are losing it back home too, slowly but surely. I don’t think Tar Mop Night has been seen in about 60 years or more now.

I know some traditions die out for practical reasons- imagine Guy Fawkes night downtown Toronto! The police would show up in Riot gear. Seriously, we need to sit down and look at all those wonderful traditions we had for so many years, and really give some thought to preserving them. If not in practice, definitely with photos and stories: our own recording of our history. These traditions are what make us unique, they are an essential part of that constant internal pull of the island: they draw us together as one. And that my friends, is a beautiful thing.


WhitbyDude01 said...

A few things are starting to bug me about Halloween.

One is that people don't even really know what the hell it is or where it came from. Nadine and I tried decorating some pumpkins on Oct 31st while we were in Korea and the Koreans just thought we were insane. Try to imagine explaining it to a foreigner unfamiliar with the practice: "umm...we cut out some pumpkins...no, we don't eat them...just carve out a face from the inside and shove a candle in....no, it's not a religious thing...I'm agnostic.....part of my culture?....ah....not sure about that either...why do we try to scare the shit out of each other?...ummm cause it's fun??..."

I watched an entire special about the origins of Halloween last year on PBS and I'm still not sure of the relevance of "celebrating" it today. Not only that, people make it a monthly celebration...kind of like Christmas....even though there are the 12 days for the later and only a few hours in a single evening for the former. It's not even a holiday for gosh sake.

Stupid...probably....meaningless...very likely.....fun....for sure, and maybe that's all that counts. Maybe the fact people can put aside differences and get together to have a good time over anything is better then never getting together at all.

I think George Kanstanza's father of "Seinfeld" had it right when he came up with "a festivus for the rest of us". The getting together part is what's really important.


Nuclear Mom said...

I remember that picture! You need one to compare to this year!

Gertrude said...

I love Hallowe'en, just because! When else these days do you see little children just being kids even though there are parents at the end of the walk way the joy and comradery is so evident. It is a time of make belive and excitement that draws anyone who will let it back to the simple joy of childhhod.

Steve said...

I don't really like Hallowe'en. I don't like having to buy a hundred bucks worth of candy; I don't like standing in my doorway giving it out; I don't like posting a "shelled out" note on the door and cringing every time a teenager (yes, teenager, cuz we run out too late enough to cover the younger ones) stomps on my porch and fearing some sort of vengeance for not having spent two hundred bucks on candy; I don't like trudging in the snow or rain or even moonlight with my kid because I'm afraid he'll get hurt out there on his own; I don't like sorting through my kids candy and eating the Rockets (ok I'm lying); and I don't like that little apostrophe in the "we'en" part of the word.

Ok... except for the potential for trick or treaters vengeful tricks, I love it all. I'm just bitter because my son is too old to go out and now there will be no returns on my investment!

One thing I never understood, though. We spend much of our time teaching our kids not to take candy from strangers. Then, once a year, we dress them up and tell them to threaten strangers to give it to them with some sort of mysterious extortion scheme. Trick or Treat indeed.

nadinebc said...

Cripes Steve, way to suck the life out of it!