Louise O’Neill

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Feature -

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


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

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