Hallowe'en is here again!
As darkness falls across Edinburgh's Old Town, my macabre minions and I are preparing to scare the wits out of more willing victims than any other night of the year. As is usually the case, there will be many extra ghosts lurking up closes and down gloomy stairs to help us along; and of course, we also have the benefit of thousands of unpaid extras haunting the streets as well!
With the Beltane Fire Society's Samhuinn Festival and the general merriment around the town, it may be difficult to work out which monsters are our own, so I advise our guests not to bother any ghouls they may find slumbering drunkenly in corners. If they are mine, I'll deal with it.
However, tonight also has its darker side. [Err... really? --Ed.] I speak, of course, of the vile protection racket known these days as "Trick or Treat": costumed young mafiosi knocking on doors around their neighbourhoods and demanding sweeties with menaces. Make it snappy with the jelly snakes, old man, or you'll be cleaning egg off your windows for the next week! Needless to say, the BBC warned us about this moral decay years ago.
It will surprise nobody that this barbarous practice comes to us courtesy of our erstwhile Colonial chums in the USA. What may be less well-known is that theirs was merely a derivation of the Scots and Irish custom of guising, which readers of a certain age may recall still taking place up to only a decade or two ago; indeed, there may even be a few die-hards still engaging in the Old Ways this very night.
The principle of guising differs from trick-or-treating in that the little tykes are obliged to earn their sugar-filled payoff, by performing a song, dance or other stage-worthy piece of performance art (their party-piece) for their hosts. It is precisely this sort of ritual humiliation of the young that forged previous generations of Scots into the hardy, indefatigable breed they are today -- but for how much longer, when all we are now teaching them is garishly-attired extortion?
I certainly feel that our own contribution to tonight's celebrations is more in the tradition of guising: we will certainly be working hard doing our "party-pieces" all evening, though our reward will be more pecuniary than confectionery-based. That said, the Mad Monk does wish it to be known that jelly snakes are perfectly acceptable as a gratuity!