There one old lady in our village who’s never seen outside without a headscarf. There are a few of them, but the one I’m thinking about wears the traditional hand-pleated skirt over stockings and rides a bike. She’s too bosomy to fit a witch profile but her on her bike is as close it comes to witches on broomsticks in this part of the world. Photos are popping up on my feed from friends in places who celebrate Hallow’een. Skeletons, Witches. Spiders. Ghosts. Skulls. Cobwebs. The spiders and the cobwebs we have year-round. But the rest are in large part missing from our October decor. Instead, we have flowerpot people dangling on bales of straw, random pairs of jeans stuck to the sides of trees, and the occasional painted pumpkin that is about as ghoulish as it gets.
We can trace Hallow’een back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. Back in the day, there were two seasons, not four. Winter began on the last day of October and ran till the first day of May. The rest of the time it was summer. Winter happened when the god of darkness summoned all the dead souls to celebrate. To countermand this darkness, the Celtic druids of old would gather on the top of a hill and light a big bonfire to dance around and offer sacrifices believing that this would retain the light. Samhain was a dangerous time then the sídhe (fairy mounds) opened to the Otherworld. It was a time when the line between this world and the Otherworld could be more easily crossed.
On reflection though, these flowerpot peeps started popping up back in September, way too early for even the most eager of decorating beavers. What they mark is not about Hallow’een, it’s about the harvest season which starts mid-September and runs through November.
All the villages around us have their own displays. This year, our village has really upped its game. The competition must be getting tougher. Nearby Zalavár, home of the Easter bale bunnies, gives a nod to the local vineyards with its decorated winepress.
My pick of harvest festivals
My pick of the many harvest festivals happening around the country would be the Szent-Dömötör napi behajtási ünnep (St Dömötör Day Autumn Round-up ) on 24 October in Hortobágy. This traditional festival marks the arrival of cold weather when the drovers and their cattle prepare for the long winter. Apparently, hundreds of cattle and their drovers cross Kilenclyukú híd (trans. nine-hole bridge), the icon nine-arched bridged in that part of the country. Technically, the feast of St Demetrius is on October 26 (a Monday this year) but convenience calls. The feast day was known as shepherd’s New Years as it was when they came back home from the hills with their flocks and their contracts were renewed for another year. The Hungarian juhász translates as shepherd, which confused me as sheep in this country aren’t all that common. Another translation for shepherd is pásztor which is closer to the Australian pastoralist, a broader term than describes someone who herds cattle or sheep. I can rest easy, now.
I’m not one for skeletons (that said, this bones photo from Florida is clever). I am a fan of ghosts but mine have all been friendly so I’ve a hard time working with the badness. I’m far too familiar with spiders and cobwebs to pay them much heed. Witches don’t do it for me, either. All in all, I’d prefer the innocence of the harvest decorations, the colours, and the celebration of what has been a pretty dismal year all round. In May, the Hungarian fruit harvest was predicted to be down 40%. For weeks we left the village to the smell of rotten vegetation as sunflowers and corn stood dying in stagnant water from the monsoon-like rains we had, punctuated by periods of intense heat. The damage is still there.
I’m ready for the colour and grateful for the crisp, cold, clean air that goes a long way to cleansing this COVID-tired soul.