Irish American Halloween in South Jersey

One of the defining moments in my recalling the joys of childhood is Halloween. As I write this I am transported back into time as I recollect the excitement of the evening.

We rushed home from school on that magical day at the end of October to prepare our costumes and position ourselves, giddy with anticipation, at the front door awaiting sundown and then we were off on a night of mystery and enchantment.  As darkness fell we began our journey through the dimly lit streets. 

In the autumn chill the trees had begun to shed their leaves creating a yellow, orange and red carpet covering the pavements. As we moved from door to door in the crisp autumn air our feet pushed a path through the multicolored carpet.  The dim outline of the other groups of children would ebb and flow as we moved through the streets, sometimes meeting up at the doorways jostling for position to collect our treats and then going our own ways. 

There was an hour or so when the sidewalks were crowded and the sounds of revelry filled the pathways. But as the night progressed the crowds thinned and the happy sounds became muted and far away.  It was about this time that a somber, almost sinister aspect began to overtake the night.

Our beloved grandmother who lived nearby, born in the wilds of Donegal, her house always the first stop of the night, would give us a warning as we went on our way, "Don’t let the Fairies get you". This admonishment would linger in my mind accompanied by a growing sense of apprehension as the night wore on. 

We walked back home at the end of the evening, fatigue overtaking excitement trudging through the carpet of decaying vegetation. One particularly cold evening as we returned home along a wooded path at the edge of the village there was a rush of wind, a flash of light and the knife edge of a banshee scream which passed over us in a shimmering veil. In an instant it was gone. Half imagined, half real, not spoken of. My brother John and my sisters Ellen, Bernadette and I looked at one another without speaking and quickened our pace. 

Soon we were at home sitting at the kitchen table, dividing our spoils into big bowls purposefully brought out from the cupboard. The kitchen steeped in the aroma of stew warming on the stove. Our mother would be bubbling with her own sense of excitement over the many visitors, some known to her, some not. We were back in the light.


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