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Gralloching a pumpkin

This concept of *gralloching a pumpkin is alien to me. I was brought up with neeps.

When I was a bairn, in the North East of Scotland, we had never heard of pumpkins. With the advent of colour television last year, I realised neeps had competition. In black and white, you can’t tell the difference.

Except that neeps are purple and pumpkins are orange, so in black-and-white, the neep is behind the pink, and the pumpkin is between the green and brown. Both are snookered behind the black. Which is the greyish one NNE of the cue ball. (The cue ball is the light grey one at the opposite end of the table from the pumpkin.)

Forgive me, I’m new to this colour stuff.

Here in Scotland, Halloween was never about extortion.

We gralloched our neep, and made a neepy lantern. We picked a fresh neep, because it had to last until Guy Fawkes night. Which was only six days away. Och, we played with it, and maybe we dooked for apples in the tin bath in front of the fire, once Grandpa had vacated it. It was supposed to be fun, but Grandpa always left his wallies in the bath that night, then returned to haunt us with a deft hand movement, securing the apple – the one apple – for his nocturnal consumption.

It didn’t matter, because we dooked for apples only to amuse Grandpa. And the neepy lanterns were only lit briefly. They were preserved for the big event.

November the Fifth – Guy Fawkes Night – Bonfire Night – call it what you will. Woe betide if your neep had shrivelled by then. The first smouldering smoky fizzle was followed by a minor whoosh – hopefully, if someone had remembered to plant the diesel-soaked rag.

Once the bonfire was raging, just outside the circle of light it provided, you would see the dancing, illuminated display of neeps.

I am dismayed by the apparent ubiquitous pumpkin. Not for the first time, it is the US trying to take over the world.

Halloween is the Celtic festival of Samhain. A Celtic warrior challenged the Devil, and tricked him into climbing an apple tree. The warrior then carved a cross in the trunk of the tree, so the Devil couldn’t get down. When the warrior died, the Devil handed him a lighted coal, in recognition of a worthy adversary, to help him see his way to the afterlife. The warrior put the lighted coal in a hollowed out turnip, to ensure the wind didn’t blow it out.

Yes, that was two thousand years ago, and it was a turnip. Not a pumpkin. A turnip.

And from that day on, hanging a lighted neep, or any other gralloched root vegetable, outside your door on Halloween is an invitation for the dead to pay you a visit.

The pumpkin thing is a New World, no history, no understanding, desperate cling to roots, using the only vegetable available. “Trick or Treat” is an imported extortion which we just have to deal with, like McDonalds, KFC, or losing our sons in Iraq.

And why, in Scotland, do we carve out our Halloween neeps and preserve them carefully until Bonfire Night? Because down south, they burn the Guy Fawkes effigy as a traitor. We have a bonfire in celebration, and dance around it with our neepy lanterns. We celebrate a hero who did his best to destroy the nerve centre of an occupying country. Here, he is known as Guy McFawkes.

* gralloch (vb) – to remove the entrails
wallies (n) – false teeth
© Mike Clark 2005

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