Growing up in Australia, Halloween wasn’t a big thing in my life. It seems often to have been associated with sniffs and ‘oh, that’s all a bit Americanised, isn’t it?’ which usually leads straight into a rant about how every year Christmas decorations are out earlier and earlier.
There was neither trick nor treat on my street, pumpkins were left unscathed and costumes were something you got for themed birthday parties.
Here in Sweden there’s a similar sense of not taking it too far, but in addition there’s another tradition underlying the new, and as with Jul it concerns light.
Halloween at our apartment started with a frenzy of baking, in which I decided that festivals are basically about food and on a cold rainy day, fiddling about with an oven and sweet food isn’t a bad way to go.
I started with a basic spiced cake, which didn’t turn out exactly right, and will have to be the subject of another go in future. The less said about it the better really.
Next was an ancient Roman delicacy, the awkwardly named Placenta cake, that originated as a religious offering. I found a great blog with heaps of recipes and did the modernised version and it worked well. As with Carthaginian porridge, there’s something about baked cheese and honey that I really like, and that the Romans apparently enjoyed as well.
Thirdly Soul cakes, which was what I found when I searched for traditional Halloween cakes. They were originally made to honour the dead, and were handed out door to door, and might possibly relate to the origin of trick or treat. There are certainly tasty and easy to make, and my partner amazed even myself with his ability to make them magically disappear. My lesson from this cake though was not to put the raisins on while baking. Cooked raisins aren’t especially raisiny.
Finally I made a pile of rolls for dinner, using a miraculous recipe that only requires 30 minutes from start to finish. All delicious and fluffy and perfect with a homemade burger.
Before you begin wondering where the normal blog went and why a kitchen-fancier has taken over, let’s leave the kitchen and discover another Halloween tradition. As I mentioned earlier, pumpkins were quite safe from the carving knife while I was growing up, but as part of our new life here in Sweden my partner and I decided to give the tradition a go.
Fortunately there were 3 pumpkins left from the wagon loads earlier in the week when we wandered down to the supermarket on the 31st, and 2 of those looked decent enough for our purposes. Some googling and pondering gave us designs and steps, and so after dinner we sat down with a few episodes of Buffy and began to carve. It was surprisingly easy and we were both pleased with our attempts. There will be more carving next year I am sure.
The next day was partly spent preparing for the Halloween party that night, during which time we realised how under-prepared we were. In order to use one of my favourite dresses I decided to be a witch, complete with a pouch of rune stones, a bunch of herbs, Freya and other suitable jewelry and my candle-lit pumpkin. My partner chose to become a ghoul, and was quite convincing, especially once he put on the cloak. We both did pretty well, considering it was our first time getting dressed up for Halloween.
The party was a lot of fun, with spooky food, friends, new friends, music and a very wide range of costumes.
And during all these adventures in and out of traditions, the cemetery below our window filled with flickering candles and wreaths of pine and flowers. All Hallows Eve is celebrated over a series of days here in Sweden, so everyday the candles would spread just a little bit more, and we could see family and friends tending the graves and standing vigil. These lights in the darkness, and the remembrance of the dead are a nice counterpoint to the fun and silliness of Halloween. I can imagine people up and down Sweden dressing up as ghosts, monsters or beasts, and then the next day, with the face paint perhaps lingering behind their ears, they head to the cemetery to light a candle for their grandmother and think about those who have passed, and the thin barrier between life and death.