LOUISE O'NEILL: I love Halloween, the most Irish of festivals

I’VE been most unhappy about the unseasonably warm weather this October — thank you, climate change, writes Louise O’Neill.

Autumn is usually such a delight. The leaves turning rust and gold, falling gently, and crunched underfoot, while the evenings draw closer. Roaring fires and electric blankets and hot chocolate and scarves and new ankle boots and coats.

God, I love a good coat. I’ve already bought my 2018 one, a mint green affair with three quarter length sleeves. It’s completely impractical, but that’s the joy of an autumn coat. It doesn’t need to be practical, it only needs to look cool in Instagram photos while you kick piles of leaves while holding a pumpkin spice latte.

It helps that I love Halloween, the most Irish of festivals, which dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain but was repurposed by the Americans in order to sell us more stuff we don’t need (#MakeSamhainGreatAgain).

When I remember Halloween as a child, I remember praying for the gold ring in the barmbrack (because what else could a five-year-old girl want but to get married some day?) and eating ten million monkey nuts that tasted absolutely vile because it was ‘tradition’. My dad was really invested in the whole thing, organising games like Bobbing For Apple, Pass the Apple, Snap Apple, Apple Paring (note to Dad: Apples are not the only fruit), and making costumes for myself and my sister. We had four options — ghost, witch, monster, or skeleton — because a) this was Ireland in the ’90s and he had to MacGyver a costume out of duct tape, a black polo neck, and some face paints and b) we didn’t have any relatives in America to send us fancy shop-bought get-ups that would make us the envy of all our friends.

Dad had no truck with fairy or princess costumes, because Halloween was supposed to be scary, not pretty, in his view. I adhered to this principle until I hit adolescence and realised, like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, that: “In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.” So there were a few years of dressing up like a Sexy Doll, a Sexy Pirate, and a Sexy Ladybird — and then suffering through most of November because of the resulting kidney infections.

The last time I dressed up for Halloween was three years ago, when I was giving a guest lecture at a university at Montreal. I went as Zombie Joan of Arc, complete with white contact lenses (feminist and creepy, win win) which unfortunately made it very difficult to see. I got so accidentally drunk that I cried going through customs the next day and told the security officer ‘to stop being mean to me’.

I then wept for the entire flight home because I was reading a book about Camelot and Kennedy had just been shot. The woman sitting next to me asked what was wrong, so I turned to her and said ‘JFK is dead. Poor — sob — poor Jackie’. The woman’s response — “.....did you not know until now?” — still haunts me.

Since then, I’ve given up alcohol and now spend Halloween at home, hovering by the front door in wait of trick or treaters.

Small Child: “Trick or Treat?”

Me: “Sugar rots your teeth, so here is an apple. Hey, stop crying. You can play at least 10 different parlour games with that thing.”

Once I’ve scared off any neighbour kids, I usually spend the rest of the evening watching movies. When I was younger and thought I was immortal, I used to love horror films. If you had a sleepover in sixth class and you didn’t watch It, can you even call yourself a child of the ’90s? 

I loved Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, although I’m not sure why my parents thought it was a good idea to allow a seven-year-old watch a movie about sexy vampires but sure look, at least I was quiet for a couple of hours — amirite?

Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger were quickly replaced by the knowing, tongue in cheek Scream, which excellently parodied all the slasher films that came before it. (My grandmother took my sister and me to see that when I was 11 and Michelle was 12, thus continuing the tradition of being exposed to material that was totally inappropriate.) The Craft made witches look cool but watching The Exorcist when I was 15 was the real game changer. I wonder if it would have had the same affect on me if I hadn’t been raised Catholic, but I found the notion of being possessed by the devil bone-chillingly terrifying, and far more likely prospect than a clown living in the drains, holding a red balloon. I refused to sleep by myself for about a week afterward, cowering on the floor of my parents’ bedroom. My dad eventually kicked me out when I woke up at 4am screaming “the power of Christ compels you”. It was a rough time for all of us.

So, this year on October 31, I’m going to play it safe and watch Hocus Pocus for the millionth time while taking a Buzzfeed quiz to discover what Sanderson Sister I am (Winnie, natch). It’s what the ancient Celts would have wanted.


LISTEN: The Teacher’s Pet is an Australian True Crime podcast about Lynn Dawson’s disappearance in 1982. Her husband, Chris, moved his teenage lover into the family home mere days afterwards, but has always denied playing a role in Lynn’s probable murder.

READ: He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly. This might be the first time I’ve ever been genuinely shocked by the twist in a thriller. Intelligent, riveting, and unexpected.

- Louise O’ Neill is the author of Only Ever Yours, Asking For It, Almost Love, and The Surface Breaks

- @oneilllo

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