The veg patch has been ploughed, the clocks have rolled back and the flocks of geese and cranes have ceased their noisy flyovers on their way to warmer parts. A cosy space has been prepared in a shed for our beautiful goat, Julė, to spend her nights protected from the cold and rain, and with the feast of Samhain, we enter the dark half of the year.
Maybe it’s the rose-tinted glasses, but Halloween seemed a simpler time when I was a kid. Masks and costumes were homemade and decorations were limited to Jack-o-lanterns carved from turnips or Swedes. We would go from door to door in small groups, singing and dancing to earn our prize – some sweets, but mostly apples and nuts. We would then go back to one house for the Halloween party, where we would play various games, again mostly involving apples. We would stick our faces into basins of chilly water to bite the bobbing apple, or try to bite the apple dangling on a string from the lampshade.
Back then, the most you would find in the shops coming up to Halloween were simple plastic masks and bags of apples and nuts. If you wanted to carve a turnip you picked it up in the veg aisle (or, more likely, stole it from a neighbour’s field!) There were no Halloween costumes, special Halloween decorations or spider-shaped sweets. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these things, but the lack of them appeals to my do-it-yourself mentality. I loved making masks and baking the traditional barnbrack with my mam. I loved the singing and dancing and the silly homemade games.
Here in Lithuania, Halloween is a fairly new phenomenon. Kids have only started going from house to house “trick-or-treating” in recent years, and while there are some costumes and decorations in the shops, you are more likely to find whole aisles filled with flowers and candles as people prepare graves for Vėlinės, the annual celebration of the dead observed across November 1st and 2nd.
Over the last few years I have found myself tuning in more and more to the rhythm of the seasons, and beautiful as they are, fresh flowers at the end of October feel out of place to me. So I decided to release my creative spirit and make wreaths from evergreens collected around the garden. I couldn’t find any wreath frames in the shops, so I started by making rings from long, thin twigs. We’ve had a lot of rain recently, which meant the twigs were reasonably pliable when I cut them. It took me a while (and a few broken twigs), but I eventually wove two wooden circles to use as frames.
With the hard part done, the wreaths came together quite quickly. I used mostly spruce, interspersed with some ivy and boxwood. The result is quite rustic but very beautiful, to my eyes at least. I love that they’re homemade from homegrown materials. I love that they’re evergreen. And I love that they’re circles which, along with this whole story, really, reminds me of one of my favourite songs – The Circle Game, by Joni Mitchell.
And the seasons, they go round and round,
And the painted ponies go up and down,
We’re captive on the carousel of time.
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind, from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game.