Sunday, September 22, 2013


    Halloween has ancient origins that are embedded in tradition and the Halloween parade is one of the many celebrations associated with this holiday. Halloween parades today represent an opportunity for people to show off their Halloween costumes and even compete for prizes. However, this fun part of modern-day Halloween tradition actually began thousands of years ago, with the intent of warding away malevolent spirits.

   The tradition of having a Halloween parade can be traced back to the earliest origins of Halloween. Halloween actually began as the pagan festival Samhain, which was observed thousands of years ago with the ancient Celts who occupied what was is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. Samhain represented a time when human spirits were supposed to come to earth to wreak havoc on human souls.    Each year on Samhain, the Celts dressed up in gruesome animal-like costumes that were usually made from animal heads and skins and they would parade about their communities on Samhain. These precursors to the modern day Halloween parade were

 intended to make a great deal of noise. The belief was that by creating a ruckus, they could drive the souls of the dead away and remain safe from harm. They wore costumes because the disguises would make it impossible for the malevolent spirits to tell who was human and who was a spirit.     As time went by, Samhain came to be known as All Hallows Eve and eventually into what we now know as Halloween. While the name of the holiday has changed over thousands of years, much of the beliefs and customs associated with this holiday have remained constant. For example, the tradition of a costumed Halloween parade began with the gruesome animal costumes worn on Samhain by the ancient Celts to ward away evil spirits.     As the holiday evolved into All Hallows Eve with the spread of Christianity, the Halloween parade of costumes remained a tradition, but the types of costumes evolved. During the days that Halloween was referred to as All Hallows Eve, the most common costumes visible in Halloween parades were saint, devil, and angel disguises. As the holiday further transitioned into what we now know of as Halloween, the tradition of the Halloween parade remained the same, but with a greater variety of costumes.   The Halloween parade today is still very much a big thing. Many schoolchildren enjoy participating in costume contest parades at school and in their social clubs and organizations. In today’s Halloween parades, you are likely to see costumes similar to those worn by Samhain and All Hallows Eve participants throughout history. However, you are also likely to see costumes of superheroes, movie starts, cartoon characters, vampires, and many

other disguises.     Halloween parades aren’t just for children. Adults and children alike enjoy participating in Halloween parades each year. For example, the New York Village Halloween Parade is held each year, with about two million participants. . This is the largest public Halloween parade in America, and has been designated as one of the greatest events on earth by festivals international.


    Myths and legends are a part of virtually every culture. One of the most interesting legends of Russian culture is that of Baba Yaga. She is, however, not unique to Russia. There are similar stories about her, under other names, in Poland as well as in the Czech Republic.
    The figure of Baba Yaga is most often pictured as that of an old hag on a broomstick, reminiscent of the kitchen witches we often see today. Some believe that she might have been the precursor for the ugly, old crones that most often represent witches at Halloween.
    In truth, however, Baba Yaga is a complicated creature associated as much with fertility and fate as she is with death. Some believed that she also had the gift of prophecy and great wisdom. However, for reasons never understood, she seldom chose to use those skills without exacting a gruesome payment. Anyone wishing to partake of Baba Yaga's wisdom had to take on a challenge, which began with a trip to her home hidden deep within a treacherous forest. Those arriving there would often decide to turn back without confronting the hag because of the gruesome look of the house itself. As legends have it, Baba Yaga's home sat atop four chicken legs that allowed her to move it from place to place at will. Surrounded by a black picket fence adorned with flaming human skulls, those arriving on her property were no doubt scared about what they were about to encounter.
    Inside the house, it was said that the crone sat at a spinning wheel, spinning with thread made from the tendons and muscles of human beings. Not prone to help anyone out of a sense of kindness, Baba Yaga would put those who sought her assistance through a series of tests before agreeing to help them.
    Few ever completed them and even some of those who did were never seen again because they dared to anger the old woman in the process. She then turned on them with her sharp teeth. It was said that she could rip apart an animal or a human in less that 30 seconds.


Pumpkin Gingerbread

This has to be the weirdest fall ever. High seventies on the first day of November. Beautiful and sunny, though the wind has picked up a bit. The gusts come and go, stirring up leaves from the trees, so it’s beginning to at least feel like autumn. Trick-or-treaters paraded through the neighborhood last night, leaving a trail of candy wrappers and smiles. Mr. Jack-o-lantern is still sitting on his perch (maybe we’ll light him up again tonight!). We almost always have extra pumpkin sitting around this time of year, either puréed and in cans, or fresh. Two of my favorite sweet quick breads are pumpkin bread and gingerbread. This recipe (an experiment really) I’m delighted to report, happily combines the two—pumpkin and gingerbread. Spicy, molasses-y, pumpkin-y. Easy too. Happy fall.


Pumpkin Gingerbread Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour
By the way, we made one batch of this pumpkin gingerbread forgetting to add the melted butter and you know what? It's still turned out fine. Not as moist as the butter version, but still good, and better the next day. I still prefer the butter version, but if you are trying to cut back, you can leave it out.


  • 1 1/2 cups (200 g) all purpose flour*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup (240 ml) pumpkin purée**
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, or 112 g) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) molasses
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced candied or fresh ginger (optional)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
* I've also made this pumpkin gingerbread using gluten-free flour from King Arthur. Turned out great!
* *To make pumpkin purée from pieces of leftover pumpkin, just roast or boil the pieces until tender, then remove the skin. Smash the cooked pumpkin with a fork. If using a whole pumpkin, sugar pumpkins work best. Cut in half, scoop out the strings and seeds, bake the pumpkin halves at 350°F on a foil-lined baking pan until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour. When cool, scoop out the flesh and mash with a fork.


1 Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Prepare a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with non-stick spray or butter to keep the pumpkin gingerbread from sticking to the pan.
2 In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
3 In another bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the pumpkin purée, melted butter, sugar, molasses, fresh or candied ginger, eggs, and water.
4 Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Add the raisins if using. Stir only until incorporated.
5 Place the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a bamboo skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then gently run a knife around the edge of the loaf and invert the loaf to remove it from the pan. Let it cool on a rack for 30 minutes or longer.
The loaf's flavor will improve with time. If you cut into it while it is still a bit warm, it may be crumbly. In which case you may want to make your slices with a bread knife.
Yield: Makes one loaf.