54. Halloween / Guy Fawkes Night

English cultural information and expressions about Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night (5th Nov), some entertaining stand up comedy about Halloween and all the usual useful bits of language and vocabulary.

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Click Here to read Wikipedia’s information about Halloween (I used it as a source of information in this episode)

Click Here to read about Guy Fawkes Night on Wikipedia too.

TRANSCRIPT – 54. Halloween / Guy Fawkes Night – First 15 Minutes

Hello everybody, welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. It’s actually 5 November here and I’m just going to tell you some things about Halloween in this podcast. So I’ll be talking about, you know, Halloween and what people usually do at Halloween and some of the story behind the Halloween festival and exactly what it is. I’ll also be talking about 5 November which is also an important day in the calendar here, in England. We celebrate Guy Fawkes Night on 5 November. And there is an interesting story behind that as well. So I’ll tell you about that too. Also in this podcast we are going to listen to a bit of stand up comedy and you’re going to learn some interesting expressions using the word “up” and the word “down”. So cultural information, bit of entertainment and some genuine language learning opportunities for you. Isn’t that fantastic? Yes it is. Ladies and gentlemen, yes it is.

So Halloween. Now, as you know probably, Halloween falls on 31 October every year. And it’s a kind of traditional festival, which is celebrated in many different countries around the world. We celebrate it here, but it’s not quite as important a day here, in England as it is in America. In fact many British people think that Halloween really is more of an American invention or an American festival. We tend to celebrate 5 November, I’ll talk about that a bit later.

But what’s Halloween all about? Well, we do do it here, we do celebrate it. And, let’s see… well it’s rather complicated, because there is a bit of history to it. Basically, before I go into the history, Halloween is a kind of, generally something that children enjoy in Britain. And it’s a kind of a chance for kids to go out and, sort of, celebrate basically the end of summer and the beginning of winter. They do it by using bits of, kind of, horror imagery symbols that represents, kind of, scary things.

So you got lots of pumpkins with scary faces, spiders, skeletons, you know, demons, Dracula that kind of thing. And kids have little parties where they dress up in different costumes, like horrible costumes of ghosts and skeletons. And typically will go in their neighbourhood and they would knock on people’s doors and go “Trick or treating”, which is basically a way for them to just kind of knock on the door of a neighbour and they say “Trick or treat”. And the neighbour has two options: either they can give the child or children a treat, which is typically some sweats, you know. Or they choose trick and in that case the children then play a trick on that person in some way. And often it would involve some kind of practical joke like maybe spraying them with the some silly spray or I don’t know playing another trick on them, you know, doing something like splashing water or them or something like that, usually quite mild tricks. So that’s “Trick or treating”. So that’s it, but…

Some of the background information. I’m just going to read some things to you from wikipedia, the slightly unreliable online encyclopedia. Basically Halloween, as it says here, it’s an annual holiday observed on 31 October. Yeah, 31 October, if you say it properly like that. And it has its root in Celtic festival of Samhain, I think, and the Christian holiday All Saint’s Day. But these days it’s largely a secular celebration. So, not really a religious holiday. But it has its roots in, kind of, religious festivals. So, common Halloween activities include “Trick or treating”, wearing costumes, attending costume parties, carving jack-o’-lantern. In America they call them jack-o’-lanterns, in here we just call them Halloween pumpkins. Ghost tours, bonfires. A bonfire is like a large fire that you’d have in your garden or in a park. Apple bobbing – that is like a little game, where you put apples in a big bowl of water and you have to try catch the apples with your teeth and pull them out. And the person who gets most number of apples is the winner, and telling ghosts stories and watching horror films.

So, some of the history to Halloween. Let’s see… Basically, I think it comes from ancient Celts. Well, the Celts were a kind of race of people who lived in Great Britain and Ireland, probably more Ireland, I think, certainly after, you know, Britain was invaded by people like Normans and Vikings and so on. But the ancient Celts basically believed that they were two halves of the year: the light half and the dark half. Basically, kind of summertime and wintertime. Right? Now they believe that it’s on the border between the light half and the dark half of the year, which falls around at the end of October, the beginning of November. At that time the kind of border between this world and the spirit world becomes very thin. Right? And it allows spirits both harmless like playful harmless spirits, but also harmful scary spirits to pass through. So it’s kind of when we get close to the spirit world and some of the spirits come through into our world. Right? Now basically, traditionally, this was a time where families’ ancestors, so sort of spirits of dead relatives were invited into the house and welcomed. But the dangerous harmful spirits were kind of warded off or scared away. Right?

People believe that originally people started to wear scary costumes and masks as a way of trying to scare off the harmful spirits. Ok? So, as well as that, as well as kind of wearing these masks and using symbols to frighten away the scary spirits, people had these big bonfires, which kind of represented some act of cleansing using fire to kind of cleanse the evil spirits away. Then I guess more and more, as that festival was celebrated, it’s become kind of commercialized really. You know these days, particularly in America, that’s what a lot of people say, it’s very commercialized.

So you see all the shops are filled with you know toys and masks and costumes and pumpkins and things like that. “Trick or treating” is something that I used to do, when I was a kid. It was quite fun really. We’d get dressed up in different costumes, wearing our masks. And then we’d go walking… go walking around the neighbourhood. Knocking on doors, saying “Trick or treat” and of course people would generally give us some sweets and things and actually if you think about it. It’s quite a… It’s really a great day to be a kid, because suddenly all the people in your neighbourhood are willing to just give you free sweets and free candy. And so it’s quite an amazing day, really. So that’s pretty much it. Like I said it’s not such a big festival here in the UK. It’s more of a big deal in America. And here we tend to celebrate 5 November actually around this time of year.

And 5 November is also called Guy Fawkes Night. Basically on 5 November we celebrate the death of a man called Guy Fawkes. And he wasn’t a hero here. He was actually a bad guy. He basically tried to kill the Royal Family and the Prime Minister of Britain by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. There was a plot, which is called Gunpowder Plot, where Guy Fawkes and his men planned to use dynamite to blow up Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in order to kill the Royal Family. Now the reason they did that because they were Catholics and at that time there was a lot of conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in Britain. And we had a Protestant Royal Family and [the] Guy Fawkes, who was a Catholic terrorist actually, decided that he wanted to have them killed.

So, now I’m just having a look at it on Wikipedia actually right now and I’m going to tell you some details of the story. So here we go. Guy Fawkes Night which is also known as Bonfire Night is an annual celebration held primarily in Great Britain on or around the evening of 5th November. Festivities are centred of the use of fireworks and the lighting of bonfires. Some formal British colonies also celebrate the date. Historically the celebrations mark the anniversary of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 5th November 1605. The date was originally made a public holiday in England by the anti-Catholic thanksgiving act of 1605, which was later repealed in 1859. So, basically Guy Fawkes Night originates from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which was a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Protestant King James I of England and James VI of Scotland and replace him with a Catholic head of state. The survival of the King was first celebrated on 5 November after Guy Fawkes left in charge of the Gunpowder placed underneath the House of Lords was discovered and arrested.

So ever since that day we’ve celebrated the capture of Guy Fawkes and actually when he was caught, he was punished, because he committed one of the greatest crimes that you can commit here, which is attempting to kill the monarch or the king or queen. And back in 1605 it was quite a brutal time, so Guy Fawkes was hung, drawn and quartered, which is a particularly horrible act of punishment. And as well as obviously trying to punish him for doing what he did, it was a kind of warning to anyone else in the country that they shouldn’t try and do something similar.

And to hang, drawn and quartered basically means first of all Guy Fawkes was hung by the neck. So they hung him up with the rope by his neck until he was almost dead. They didn’t kill him, but they nearly kill by hanging him. Then he was taken down and he was drawn, which basically means that his abdomen, his stomach was cut open and his guts were pulled out. It’s disgusting, isn’t it? But this is a Halloween podcast, so what did you expect? His stomach was cut open, his guts were pulled out and then finally he was quartered, which means he was cut into four pieces. That’s right, his head was removed and he was cut into four pieces. And those bits of his body were then displayed in various public places around the country, for example on spikes on Tower Bridge. So really horrible actually. Really, really horrible thing for us to remember.

And now every year we have a bonfire and typically we will burn a kind of effigy of Guy Fawkes and that will be like a kind of, how would you call it, sort of a representation of Guy Fawkes. So typically it would be like a man made out of old clothes and old bits of newspaper and we put him on the bonfire and burn him as a way of celebrating the fact that Guy Fawkes was caught and he didn’t manage to kill the King in 1605. We also have fireworks, big firework displays. So if you are in Britain on 5 November you will notice lots of big firework displays and that’s because we’re celebrating Guy Fawkes Night.

So that’s pretty much it. That’s my cultural information there about Halloween and Bonfire Night. Now then, I think what we do is listen to a bit of stand up comedy. Now, one of mine favourite comedians from America is Jerry Seinfeld. Now you might know the tv show that he was in a few years ago, which was called Seinfeld, which is about his everyday life basically. As well as being famous for his tv shows he’s also a great stand up comedian. And one of his CDs which you can purchase from Amazon and from lots from other websites and shops. It’s a great CD. I highly recommend that you buy it. It’s called “I’m telling you for the last time” by Jerry Seinfeld. So I highly recommend it. I’ll put a link to the Amazon page, where you can get it.

I’m going to play you a little clip from it, where he talks about Halloween. So have a listen to this, this is Jerry Seinfeld talking about Halloween. When we have finished listening, I’ll explain some of the details for you, so you can understand it perfectly just like a native speaker.

Here is the transcript of Jerry Seinfeld’s stand up comedy bit about Halloween. Please buy a copy of “I’m Telling You For The Last Time” as it is a great comedy CD/DVD which everyone can enjoy. Click this link to see the Amazon page.

Transcript: Jerry Seinfeld “Halloween”

When you’re a kid you can eat amazing amounts of food. And that… just candy. That’s all I ate when I was a kid. The only thought I had growing up was “get candy”. That was the only thought in my brain for the 10 years of human life, just “get candy get candy get candy get candy”. Family, friends, school these were all obstacles in the way of getting more candy. That’s why you had to teach kids not to take candy from strangers if they’re playing in a playground. And they can barely understand it. “don’t… no candy from the, strangers, alright. candy, strangers, no candy? Alright, because otherwise I’m taking the candy anywhere I can get it.” They’re such candy moron idiot brains, just “this man has candy I’m going with him goodbye, I don’t care what happens to me, get candy get candy get candy”. “No don’t go they’ll torture you, they’ll kidnap you”, “it doesn’t matter, he has an O Henry I have to take that chance, get candy get candy get candy”.

So the first time you hear the concept of Halloween, when you’re a kid. Do you remember the first time you even heard about it? It’s like, your brain can’t even… “what is this? who’s giving out candy? Someone’s giving out candy? who is giving out this candy? Everyone we know is just giving out candy?? I gotta be a part of this, take me with you, I want to do it, I’ll do anything that they want! I can wear that. I’ll wear anything I have to wear. I’ll do anything I have to do. I will get the candy from these fools, that are so stupidly giving it away!”

So the first couple of years I made my own costume, they, of course, sucked. Ghost, hobo, no good. So I’m begging the parents, “you’ve got to get me one of the ones from the store, the cardboard box, the cellophane top. So one year, third year, finally got it, Superman costume, not surprisingly. Mask included in the set! Remember the rubber band on the back of that mask, that was a quality item there wasn’t it? That was good for about 10 seconds before it snapped out of that cheap little staple that they put it in there with. Thinnest grey rubber in the world. You go to your first house, “Trick or SNAP – it broke, I don’t believe it. Wait up, I’ve got to fix it you guys! Come on! Wait up!”

That’s a kid thing, “wait up!”. Kids don’t want other kids to wait, they must wait ‘up’. “Wait up!”, because when you’re little life is ‘up’, you’re growing up, everything is ‘up’. Wait up, hold up, shut up! Mom, I’ll clean up! Let me stay up!

Parents of course are just the opposite. “Just calm down! Slow down! Come down here, sit down, put that down. You are grounded! Now keep it down in there.”

So I had my superman Halloween costume, I was physically ready, I was mentally prepared, and I assumed when I put this costume on I would probably look exactly like the Superman I had come to know on television and in the movies. Now you remember these costumes, it’s not exactly the super fit that you are hoping for! You look more like you’re wearing superman’s pyjamas, is what you look like. It’s all loose and flowing. Neck line kind of comes down to about there. You’ve got that flimsy little ribbon string holding it together in the back. Plus my mother makes me wear my winter coat over the costume anyway. I don’t recall superman wearing a jacket!

So you’re going out there, you know, and the mask keeps breaking, so the rubber band keeps getting shorter, it gets tighter and tighter on your face, and you can’t even see, you’re trying to breathe through that, remember that little hole that gets all sweaty in there? And the mask starts slicing into your eyeballs, “I can’t see, I can’t breathe, but we’ve got to get the candy, let’s keep going!” About a half hour into it you take that mask off “Oh to hell with it!” BING BONG” “Yeah it’s me, give me the candy! I’m superman look at the pant legs, what the hell’s the difference?”

Remember those last few Halloweens, getting a little too old for it. Just kind of going through the motions. BING BONG “come on lady let’s go, Halloween, doorbells, candy, let’s pick up the pace.” You come to the door, they always ask you those same stupid questions, “What are you supposed to be?” “I’m supposed to be done by now, you want to move it along, we’re the three musketeers. I’ve got 18 houses on this block alone. You just hit the bag, we hit the road, that’s the routine, let’s just pick it up”. Sometimes they give you that white bag, twisted on the top, you know that’s going to be some crap candy. It’s got to have those official Halloween markings on it. “Hey old lady, wait a second, what is this, the orange marshmallow shaped like a big peanut? Do me a favour, you keep that one. Yeah, we’ve got all the doorstops we need already thank you very much. We’re going for name candy only this year.”

And I think about how I used to eat when I was a kid, I remember Halloween, I would get, you know I would have like a punch bowl, and I would fill it with candy. The top of it would be curved, that’s how much candy would… And I would consume the entire punch bowl that night! Next day? Feel fantastic.

That’s it!

What’s Halloween like in your country? Do you have a traditional festival at this time of year? Leave your comments below.