Minor British Institutions: Hallowe'en


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The Independent Online

As you prepare to hide in the dark refusing to answer the door, I have some consolation regarding this festival of faff, fuss and over-excitement.

For you are, albeit reluctantly, involved in one of the oldest surviving institutions of these islands. Before its Christian re-brand, All Hallows (or Saints) was Samhain, the Celtic celebration against the start of winter, twinned with Beltane, in May, the celebration of its end.

Sadly, we can't blame the Americans for the annoying japes and commercial opportunism. Ancient youths, you see, were up to almost identical irritating youthfulness more than 2,000 years ago while their elders sat round the fire inventing tales of the dead returning accompanied by wicked witches and horrible hobgoblins.

But if, in the dark, you find yourself less convinced it's an invention, I recommend placing five pieces of a dead man's toenails in the shape of a pentagram; protective spells, some involving turnips, are available online.