Wednesday, October 31, 2007



Here in North America, we call this night, October 31, by a different name. But to the ancient Celts and neo-pagans, it is Samhain, the eve of the Celtic New Year and a magically potent time.

I'll never forget my introduction to the ancient rites of this holiday. Reading Thomas Hardy's "The Return of the Native" in high school, I was forever impressed by the image of Eustacia Vye standing by a giant bonfire atop one of the barrows, or ancient burial mounds of England, the fire dying down and she standing alone, waiting patiently, waiting and waiting . . . for what?

Samhain (pronounced SOW-in or SOW-een) comes from the Irish Gaelic word Samhraidreadh, and means, literally, the end of summer. At Samhain, the sun is at its lowest point on the horizon as measured against the ancient standing stones of Britain.

The Celts believed that on this night, the veil between the two worlds grows thin and they could again see their loved ones who had departed from this life. Their custom was to provide lights to guide the earth-walking spirits along their way, by means of fires or candles.

This does not mean that hordes of evil entities crossed the veil. It was the Celts' deceased ancestors and other friendly spirits who, if they wished, could return to the land of the living to feast and celebrate with their family, tribe or clan. Extra chairs and places were set at tables, and food set out for any who had died that year. Food was also left at doorsteps and altars for the wandering dead. Apples were buried along roadsides or paths for spirits who were lost or had no one to provide for them.

In Ireland it was known as the Feast of Tara, the principal calendar feast of the year. In every household, heath fires were extinguished, then re-lit from the new fire of the year lit by the Druids.

The Christian church borrowed from Celtic lore and re-named this holiday Halloween, a contraction of "All Hallows Evening", the eve before All Saints Day. And ironically, it was the Christian church that introduced the concept that it was evil spirits, not our dearly departed, who came through the veil. The pagan Samhain was not, and never has been, associated with evil. Also, there is no truth to the theory that the word comes from the Aryan God of Death, Samana.

Samhain bonfires, or balefires, were lit on every hilltop in England and have continued to blaze down through the centuries. In the 1860s the Halloween bonfires were still so popular in Scotland that one traveler reported seeing 30 fires lighting up the hillsides all in one night, each surrounded by a ring of dancing figures, a practice that continued until World War I.

Young people and servants lit brands from the fire and ran around the fields and hedges, while community leaders surrounded the parish bonfire with a magic circle of light. Afterward, ashes from the fires were sprinkled over the fields to protect them during the winter month (and fertilize them!). The bonfires provided an island of light against the oncoming tide of winter darkness. Even on this Halloween night in 2007, bonfires lit up the skies in many parts of Britain.


It's Halloween Night 1957 and I'm in third grade. I'm shivering, not with cold or fear, but with anticipation. We're about to go trick or treating. We meet at the one-room schoolhouse, where the country kids are dropped off so they can trick or treat in town (meaning our little village of Larson). The teacher, Mrs. Marston, will be taking us school kids and our younger sibling around.

We don't have any fancy costumes. Rather, we wear simple molded plastic masks with elastic that goes around the back of the head. We have no use for costumes anyway, as it is always cold in northern North Dakota in late October, and we need to wear our coats. The masks are a little hard to breathe and see through, but it's so exciting to be in disguise. No one knows who I am!

We set off to make our rounds. There are about 20 houses in town, and we know every person who lives in them. All the residents will welcome us this night, with homemade popcorn balls, freshly dipped caramel apples and large Snickers, Milky Way and Butterfinger bars.

All the leaves have dropped off the trees and the dried leaves crunch satisfyingly underfoot. There are street lights and sidewalks only on Main Street, otherwise we walk down the darkened streets themselves. We always stop at the local bar, where couples out for the evening and barflies alike give us money rather than candy. We go to the the general store, but this time we go to the side door - the shopkeepers live behind the store.

We do have to pass the grove, its spooky trees with thousands of arms ready to reach out and grab us. Is it just branches rubbing against each other, or something more sinister? The owl hoots, a sound we hear all year long, but it seems more ominous tonight. Thank goodness the teacher is with us.

Although we have no big Victorian haunted houses in our town, the deserted section house is spooky enough. Did we see a light in the window there? The wind rustles the long grasses by the house - or was it ghosts? This is at the edge of town, and it is very dark here. Our imaginations run wild, and we pick up the pace until we get to the Lautenschlager house.

Oh my gosh! As we near Main Street we see that some older kids have dumped some hay bales in the middle of the street and set them on fire. And up near the highway, they've blocked the road with some kind of farm implement! We've heard of kids egging houses and soaping windows in Columbus, but we would not even dare do that. These kinds of pranks are almost beyond our comprehension, and wildly thrilling.

No one in town has any scarecrows, ghosts or other Halloween decorations out in the yard, or orange mini-lights strung gaily about to light our way. Those things are still in the future. There are only black branches silhouetted against the milk-white moon. But many houses do have one or more jack o' lanterns with their distinctive odor of candle wax and burnt pumpkin. One lady asks us if we'd like some roasted pumpkin seeds. Gamely, we give them a try. Hmm, not bad.

We have made it back to the schoolhouse, our noses nipped in spite of the masks. The schoolhouse windows throw out pools of yellow light. This is only one of two nights out of the year when the schoolhouse is open at night (the other being the night of the Christmas program). Our pillowcases or paper bags are full (no fancy treat bags for us). We are satisfied. We go inside for our school party, and I stay far away from the apple bobbing tub.


Happy Halloween, everyone!

By now you know that Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I especially love vintage Halloween and collecting Halloween postcards. I'm not into skeletons, vampires, devils, werewolves, assorted monsters and creatures, ghouls, chain-saw and slasher movies, blood and gore and the like. I saw "Psycho" when I was 16 and that scared the bejeezus out of me. That was the last scary movie I ever saw.

I do believe in ghosts, although I have never seen one, and I do know that spirits abide with us, especially tonight as the veil between the two worlds grows thin (and thank you Autumn for explaining the difference between ghosts and spirits.) I like my witches benign and crone-like.

What I do like is celebrating Halloween with my friends. I sent personal Halloween e-cards to as many of you as possible today, and a few belatedly tonight, as I did not have your email addresses with me.

Sadly I did not save your email addresses when some of you replied to posts on my blog, and some of you are no-reply. From now on, I will be sure to copy down your addresses. So, Happy Halloween to my friends Rowan, Casey, Autumn Zephyr, Imelda in Ireland (buy pumpkins, not turnips!), Kate in Idaho, Kim in Kansas, Anna (Nature Girl) and Kelli Winn. If I have overlooked anyone, it was just an oversight, not a slight. (Post a comment and let me know!)

Also, Happy Halloween to all of you who may lurk here, or just stopped by for the first time. (Come in and introduce yourself!) Happy Samhain to those of you who follow the pagan path, and Happy Beltane to those of you Down Under.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


For those of you who might be wondering where I found the information for my posts on vintage Halloween, here are some of my sources:

"Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration of Fun, Food, and Frolics from Halloweens Past," by Diane C. Arkins (above), gave me most of my information on Halloween parties from the 1910s-1930s.

Another wonderful book by Arkins is "Halloween: Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear." From that, I gleaned much information about old Halloween superstitions, fortunetelling and divination.

Another excellent source for vintage Halloween information is Lisa Morton, who wrote "The Halloween Encyclopedia." This book is very expensive, so I don't own it, but she has a very informative website.

And last but certainly not least, is "The Little Big Book of Chills and Thrills." This is a chunky little book that's filled with vintage Halloween illustrations, ghost stories, poems, legends and lore, recipes and more. It's been described as a magical and enchanting little book, and I totally agree!

All of these books can be found at


After the Victorian era had passed, elaborate Halloween parties for adults came into vogue, and continued to be popular into the 1930s. Costumes were magnificent affairs, sometimes made all of crepe paper! (Below)

In planning her Halloween party, the hostess was not left high and dry for ideas. She had the current Bogie Book in hand, which gave her a multitude of ideas for decorating, costumes, favors, games and menus.

This page from a Bogie Book (shown below) gives an indication of just how elaborate these Halloween parties could be (click to enlarge). Made by the Dennison Company, the Bogie Books were published most years between 1912 and 1926 and thereafter in various other incarnations until 1935.

During the Victorian era, mostly natural decorations were used for Halloween parties. But by the early 1910s, manufactured party goods became widely available. The hostess had a dazzling and daunting array to choose from: crepe paper banners and streamers, tablecloths, party favors, paper plates and napkins, nut cups, cake toppers, blowers, party hats and place cards, most in the vivid colors of black, orange and yellow.

According to the Bogey books, any surface of the home was fair game for Halloween decorating: "Take stock with an eye to the possibilities of putting everyday objects to work. The floor lamps, radio speakers, davenports, chairs, mirrors, scrap baskets, umbrellas and even brooms and dry mops can be utilized as foundations for all sorts of interesting and grotesque decorations."

Of course, one must start with choosing just the right party invitation. The perfect one could spark interest in your gala affair as soon as it was received. "Did you ever get a party invitation that was so jolly that you made up your mind on the spot that you wanted to go, and lost no time in saying that you would? That's just the kind of invitation to send out for Halloween night." - The Ladies Home Journal, October 1916.

The hostess could don a Halloween apron,
if she wasn't wearing a costume (below).

Dancing was a favorite activity for Halloween parties, and masquerade balls were all the rage. Special Halloween sheet music provided for lively tunes. Of course, the hostess had to keep the punch and cider bowls filled for the thirsty revelers.
Bobbing for apples and fortune telling games were still very popular, supplemented by manufactured board games with Halloween themes. Or, the party's theme could be built around bridge games, with highly decorative tallies and score cards (below).

Food, of course, was a major part of the Halloween party, to be consumed either buffet style or at a sit-down dinner. The centerpiece was often a Jack Horner Pie: Decorated cardboard pie-shaped containers formed into the shape of a pie, holding party favors and fortunes.
Needlecraft Magazine, October 1926
Witch's Broth
Deviled Lobster Magic Wands
Savory Cheese Tidbits
Orange Ice
Devil's Food Cake and Angel Food Cake
Cider Black Coffee Nuts
Pieces of vintage Halloween ephemera that have survived to this day have become major Halloween collectibles are are eagerly sought after on eBay and from other sources. And, as you might expect, they have become extremely expensive.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Have you had enough of my posts about old Halloween customs? No, Okay, here are a few more.

I wrote in a previous post about divinations and fortune telling. Here are some images of Halloween superstitions. One of the most common superstitions at the turn of the century and into the 1910s and 20s was the idea that if you stood in a darkened room on Halloween night holding a candle before a mirror, you would see the face of your beloved.

In a variation of the candle/mirror superstition, the lady had to walk backward downstairs in order for the trick to work. That must have been hard when wearing a long dress!

Irish and Scottish superstitions focused around learning the attributes of your future spouse by pulling vegetables from the garden. In Scotland, young people were blindfolded and taken into the garden at midnight to pull kale. In Ireland, they pulled cabbages. By looking at the vegetables' roots they could tell if their intended would be short and stunted, tall and healthy or withered and old!

The boy and girl cabbages seem happy,
but what about the guys (?) in the background?

Here, a lady pulls a beet for divination,
with the help of a little imp.

A lady uses a wishbone and pumpkin seeds
marked with the letters L-O-V-E
to see her true love coming first through the door.

I've already posted about throwing an apple peel over your shoulder to determine the initial of your beloved. However, this card is so pretty I couldn't resist showing it. Here, a man is allowed in the game. I hope his name is Steve or Sam, not Dick or Dan!


A fairy parade with a Scottish touch,

Recently I wrote about the Irish immigrants bringing elves, goblins, sprites and brownies to the celebration of Halloween, as illustrated in vintage postcards. But we mustn't forget that the Irish also brought the fairies (or sidhe - pronounced shee or shay).

Fairies are especially active at Halloween, for this night they are leaving their summer homes, the fairy mounds in the hollow hills, and traveling along ley lines to their winter barrows.

Fairies aren't evil, but they are mischievous. They like rewarding good deeds, but they don't like to be crossed. Fairies were thought to disguise themselves as beggars and travel from house to house looking for handouts. The folk who gave them food were rewarded, while others who didn't received . . . repercussions.

Touchy and easily offended, fairies don't like to be talked about much. If you do speak of them, call them by their Gaelic nickname, "Daoine Maithe", the good people.

If you would like to leave a treat for the fairies this Halloween, put out some barley or milk, for they love these foods. Or you can even them some beer, for it is made of barley!

The Halloween fairy postcards I've seen all seem to paint fairies in a very benevolent light.

This fairy seems to be connected to the practice of divining one's romantic future from nuts placed in the coals of a fireplace (I wrote about this in an earlier post).

In a previous post regarding Halloween superstitions, I wrote that I owned most of the postcards illustrating the post. I collected most of my postcards years ago, thankfully. Some Halloween postcards have become incredibly expensive, including this fairy postcard by John Winsch. It now sells for a minimum of $100.00. I only own one of the postcards featured here (the one at the top of the post).

Isn't she a beautiful Halloween fairy?

This fairy seems to be doing a witch-protection spell.

These are not fairies but young girls inviting
the fairies to their moonlight dance!



Thursday, October 25, 2007


If you think the full moon tonight (or tomorrow night) looks larger than usual, you are right. The full moon this October - called the Hunter's Moon - is the largest moon of 2007. The October full moon will be about 50,000 kilometers - or 30,000 miles - closer than 2007's smallest moon, in April. Right now, the moon is at its perigee, or closest point to earth.

When the moon being at perigee coincides with a full moon, the result is a bright, giant heavenly orb. It is expected to look about 14% wider and about 1/3 brighter than the average full moon!

Both my calendar at home and at work say the full moon is tomorrow. However, one site I looked at ( says the full moon will occur right about midnight tonight (12:52 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, 11:52 A.M. Central Standard Time).

The moon will rise in the East tonight, be highest in the sky around midnight, and set in the West around sunrise tomorrow morning. I hope I am more observant than I was this morning. When I got to work, Gloria, my co-worker, asked, "Did you see that big, beautiful moon when you were driving over here this morning?"

"Uhh, no I didn't." My gosh, where was my mind? I remember admiring the river - maybe my eyes were cast down rather than up. But tomorrow morning, I will be gazing skyward. However, in case the weather turns cloudy, I had better go out tonight and check out the moon.

In fact, I think tonight's a Marvelous Night for a Moondance. Will you come join me?

Well, it's a marvelous night for a Moondance

With the stars up above in your eyes

A fantabulous night to make romance

'Neath the cover of October skies

And all the leaves on the trees are falling

To the sound of the breezes that blow

And I'm trying to please to the calling

Of your heart-strings that play soft and low

And all the night's magic seems to whisper and hush

And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush

Van Morrison, Moondance

Tuesday, October 23, 2007



"The air is perfectly quiescent and all is stillness, as if Nature, after her exertions during the summer, were now at rest."

(John Bradbury, 1817)


We didn't know if it would arrive, but Indian Summer is here at last. It promises to be 73 degrees tomorrow!

The American Meteorology Society defines Indian Summer as "a time interval, in mid- or late autumn, of unseasonably warm weather, generally with clear skies, sunny but hazy days and cool nights. At least one killing frost and a substantial period of cool weather must precede this warm spell for it to be considered true Indian Summer. It can last a few days or a few weeks.

Walt Whitman was elegaic about Indian Summer: "that wonderous second wind" with its "mellow, rich, delicate, almost flavoured air: Enough to live -- enough to merely be."
In Europe, Indian Summer is sometimes called St. Luke's Summer, as the saint's feast day is October 18. In Italy, Portugal and Galicia (Northern Spain) it is observed with festivals or celebrations of Celtic origins in which bonfires, roasted chestnuts and wine have an important role.

The term Indian Summer has been used for at least two centuries. The term's first appearance in writing is credited to St. John de Crevecoeur in rural New York in 1778. "Sometimes the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warmth which is called Indian Summer," he wrote. "Its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and a general smokiness."

The spoken phrase probably originated with the Colonists. Does it actually have anything to do with Native Americans? Possibly. It may have been called Indian Summer because this was the traditional Native American harvest and hunting season. Or, Native Americans may have used this time to conduct raids on the settlers before winter set in.

Another theory is that the predominantly Southwest winds that accompanied the Indian Summer period were regarded by the Indians as a favor or blessing from the Great Spirit.

Early settlers may have equated Indian Summer with Fool's Summer, as it lulls us all into thinking that winter is still very far away.


There is a harmony In autumn, and a lustre in its sky, Which through the summer is not heard or seen, As if it could not be, as if it had not been!

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

George Eliot


The gilding of the Indian summer mellowed the pastures far and wide. The russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but were yet full of leaf. The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not withered, tinged the hills...

Charlotte Brontë

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I want to wish a very happy birthday to my friend Anna (Nature Girl) in Ontario. She is a superb photographer and her blog is always graced with exquisite photos of her flower garden. She's really fond of bees too, so I chose this photo just for her.
She has been struggling with an extremely painful bout of shingles for the past six weeks so really needs some cheering up. Thankfully, she is healing, and experienced a pain-free day the other day. Anna, I hope your birthday is free from pain and that all your days to come are pain free as well.
Hugs, Julie


I borrowed this Arthur Rackham painting from Sheila's blog as it is very fitting for our weather here. It has been quite windy the past few days, so consequently about half the trees have lost their colorful leaves. As I was driving along Washington Street yesterday, I found myself enveloped in a shower of falling golden leaves. As much as I hated to see the leaves come down, it was a beautiful sight, and it was the beginning of my perfect day.

I was heading for lunch my with former supervisor at my old job. It was great fun catching up with my dear friend, learning about all her activities since she retired and hearing about her various family members, many of whom I know. It was also great fun gossiping about "that place" where we both used to work. Her twin sister still works at "that place" and I still have contacts there too. Yes, I do gossip occasionally. I think it was therapeutic for us to talk about the job for which we share the same feelings.

After lunch she had to go do family things, so I went to the movie "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" with Cate Blanchett reprising her role of Queen Elizabeth I. Being a true Anglophile I enjoyed the costumes, the castles, and the intrigues (poor Elizabeth has to deal with both the Spanish plan to invade England and the plot to assassinate her by supporters of Mary Queen of Scots.)

Cate does indeed tear up a lot of scenery as Elizabeth, but I spent most of my time watching Clive Owen as Sir Walter Raleigh. He is on my "hottie" list, for sure. I'm quite sure the screenwriter took great liberties with the plot. I DO NOT think Sir Walter was instrumental in helping Sir Frances Drake defeat the Spanish Armada. My English friends will know, but I still had great fun watching the movie.

Speaking of hotties, I was thrilled to see a trailer for a holiday movie featuring two of my favorite hotties. "P. S. I Love You," to be released in December, stars both Gerard Butler, shown below with Hilary Swank, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, shown with Swank in the bottom photo. Yes, I am a true, irrepressible romantic.

On my way home I stopped in a new little shop near my house called Ambiance. When I had been at my friend Kathy's book club cum Halloween party on Thursday night she had many lit candles, which added such a warm, glowing ambiance to her home. At Ambiance I found a tall candle holder with decorative metal that reminded me of the Elizabethan-type carvings I had just seen in the movie.
After that it was home where I found my Halloween swap box, then to some reading in bed with my doggies snuggling against me, then a dinner of Alaskan king crab with melted butter. It was on sale at a great price recently, and I used my rain check today. The crab was succulent and the wine was mellow.
All in all, a perfect day.
P. S. There was no photo below. I don't know how that got there, and don't know how to get rid of it either.


I had never joined a blogging swap before, but when I saw that Pea (Carole) at Pea's Corner had initiated a Halloween swap, I joined in, since Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.

I received my package yesterday, from Autumn (Patti) in Virginia, and I thought I'd share it with you. In the top photo is a wooden plaque and a greeting card featuring a reproduction of a vintage Halloween postcard (and you know how much I love those).

In the bottom photo are some candies (I love Russell Stover strawberry creams), jack-o-lantern soap, lip gloss, a memo pad, stickers, a towel (the ghost on the black background) and a pen with a JOL top that was blinking when I took it out of the package and kept blinking except for when I scanned it! Thanks so much, Patti. It was great fun to open this box.

Monday, October 15, 2007


A happy, happy birthday to my dear blogging friend Lila ( Lila has been concerned about her mom's health lately (she had a pacemaker installed on Saturday) and may not have been thinking much about her upcoming birthday. Lila, I hope you take a little time away from caring for Mom to celebrate your special day.

Hugs, Julie

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Above: A beautiful sample of Norwegian Rosemaling
copyright Unni Marie Lien of Norway

A book about the Norsk Hostfest

My sister and I spent Saturday at the Norsk Hostfest, the largest Scandinavian festival in North America. Fortunately for us, it's only two hours away, in Minot. But it is a huge event, with thousands of visitors from all over the United States and from the Scandinavian countries. It's a smorgasbord of food, authentic Scandinavian crafts and entertainment.

We're not huge fans of Scandinavian food, so we stopped for lunch at a Chinese buffet. Therefore, when we got to Hostfest (pronounced HOOST-fest), we were ready to hit the booths with offerings of handcrafted items from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland. Being half Norwegian, I wanted to find something from that country.

Would it be a wooden plate featuring the Norwegian tole painting called rosemaling (pictured at the top of the post.) Or would it be a hand carved tine (lunch) box, now used for storing trinkets (shown below).

Maybe I should purchase a tablecloth of Norwegian hardanger (cut thread) embroidery.

How about a nice warm Norwegian sweater? As with the rosemaling, I prefer designs in blue rather than in red.

I do love the traditional Norwegian jewelry called solje (SOL-ya), made of sterling silver with either gold or silver "spoons". But where would I wear such an elaborate piece?

I passed up the ugly Nissen, or trolls, but I really fell in love with these dolls. Called Nisserness, they are Norwegian fairy tale dolls.

However, all these items proved too expensive for my pocketbook, so I brought this home:

It's a print of a woman wearing the traditional folk dress of the Gudbrandsdalen region of Norway (and it's blue!). It's the area of Norway from which my Grandmother emigrated, so I was very happy to find this print.
I met Sharon Aamodt, the lovely woman from Washington state who paints these renderings of all the regional bunads, or traditional Norwegian costumes. I really like how she includes other traditional Norwegian items in her paintings, like the beautiful woven wall hanging in this print (click on the photo to see the fabulous detailing).
Perhaps someday I'll go back to Hostfest and purchase her print of a woman wearing the red, white and black holiday dress worn by the women of Gudbrandsdal.
By the time we had visited the Oslo, Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki halls, we had perused all the craft booths, visited the import shop, browsed the bookstore and seen the crafters' demonstrations. Our feet were hurting and we thought we could make room for a little "lunch", which is what Norwegians call afternoon tea.
Giving the lutefisk booth a wide berth, we sampled some "Viking on a Stick", which proved to be a deep-fried meatball. However, we settled on sharing a plate of Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy, and some risengrot (rice pudding) with lovely raspberry sauce.
Sis and I knew we would not escape the lutefisk entirely, and we were right. An older gentleman and his wife sat down across from us and sure enough he had a heaping plate of the gelatinous mass which is codfish preserved in lye. The Montana couple, like hundreds of others, had driven their RV to the festival. "He won't get it at home", the lady said, referring to the aromatic fish. "He had a plate of it yesterday and one today. Tomorrow we go home." Fortunately, they were nice people and the lutefisk didn't smell to much.
I had wanted to sample some rommegrot (sour cream) pudding but couldn't remember where I'd seen it and was too tired to go back and look for it. Oh, well, there's always another time. This was the 30th anniversary of Hostfest, so I guess it will be around for a while longer.
Having grown up in a Norwegian community, my sister and I felt like we had been back home for a while. But the day was over, so headed back south to Bismarck, having seen our share of Vikings and heard our fill of accordion music to last us for a while.