I’ve had heard many people bemoaning the ‘modern’ Americanisation of All Hallows Eve and this is perhaps understandable in some ways. The UK has an arguably healthy cynicism towards business chasing a fast buck when spotted and I’m sure that this is the main reason for the antipathy in attitude we see in England specifically. I’m sure it wasn’t even the first day of display but I noticed a local supermarket with a whole section of Halloween stuff on sale on October 1 this year and I know how people in this country can rail against having a money-making extravaganza foisted upon them, I feel the same way.
It’s a curious matter because as many people who know their history understand, the pagan festival is one that was largely originally observed in the Celtic countries of Scotland and Ireland, and still is to some degree in some areas. In other words it could be said that we bestowed the celebration of Halloween on North America originally, and as is often the way with these things, they now appear to be exporting it right back to us.
For a good few years now we have seen groups of young children parading around our residential streets in Trick or Treat garb, aping the North American Halloween festivities. I see nothing wrong with this for very young kids if is it safely supervised by adults and a little effort made to make the party go with a swing, transatlantic style. Having strong Canadian connections I’m happy for my partner or I to grab a few bags of sweeties and treats if we’re going to be at home that night and hand them out to the littlies in their guises. I know that many don’t feel the same way though and perhaps this is because the English style is to turn up and request a treat by the way of hard cash. Dare I say here I don’t think this is in the ‘spirit’ of the thing? There, I’ve said it. An amount of ugly vandalism has managed to find it’s way into the night here, sadly too.
One of the funniest Halloween stories I remember comes from one of my many stays in Canada a few years ago. Staying at friends in Trenton, Ontario, our male host talked of a previous Halloween night jape which terrified the local trick or treaters in fine style. Our host was a member of the then Royal Canadian Air Force and had managed to ‘acquire’ a parachute harness from his base. In a fit of ingenuity that only we men who have never really grown up can muster, by using the harness he arranged himself to be ‘hanging’ from the front garden tree, execution style, when visitors arrived to trick or treat. Beat that.
It was all a bit different and less expansive (and suspenseful) when I was a lad. I’m not sure whether it was the Scottish influence of my family but there’d seldom be an October 31st pass without a hollowed out ‘Jack o’ Lantern’ being produced. Did I say it was different then? Well for one thing there were no pumpkins used, those fanciful vegetables were something we only read about in fairy stories when somebody would turn into one at the strike of midnight for some minor timekeeping indiscretion or other. No, pumpkins were for the rich or mere sissies.
The good old honest-to-goodness turnip was our vegetable of choice. My mum and dad, in the good old Scottish vernacular called them tumshies and that’s what I always knew them as. Hollowing out the tumshie was a difficult and skilled task. It would entail a cheap penknife; a manual can opener and practically anything else you could get your hands on not to mention what seemed like about four months of hard labour. Many were the skinned knuckles and strained muscles in the pursuit of perfection for the big night. A jaggy mouth and the all-important cheap candle in the hollowed out centre, hang him in the porch from a nail and string and you were away and qualified to petrify.
The last time I had any involvement with Halloween in a tangible way was when working in a school for children with special needs a few years ago. Several of the female staff turned up in witches’ guise and I have to say I was impressed although it was not clear if one or two were returning to type. Seems like the kids were stupefied too as they worked pretty hard that day and remained light-hearted, which was by no means always the case, throughout the day’s activities.
Halloween then. Not nearly as good or exciting as Bonfire Night just around the corner (which was immense) but hey, what else can you do with a turnip apart from serve it with haggis?