But no, I haven’t missed Christmas and we aren’t even yet quite up to Halloween! Some of our larger shops are full of bright orange and black Halloween goodies – pumpkins made of plastic, felt or real ones, witch’s hats, devil costumes, pitchforks, giant spiders, bats on elastic, false fangs, ghoulish masks and sweets in the shape of teeth and all sorts of ghastly horrors!
I wonder, though, how many of these Halloween products are actually sold because to me, Halloween always seems to be a bit of a non-event. Apart from a couple of days in school making Halloween craftwork and greeting cards and explaining that Halloween really means the eve of All Hallows/Saints, it never seemed to make any impact until I moved to Abergavenny eight years ago. Then I was taken by surprise when I realised that a clutch of young teenage girls had gathered on my doorstep, full of giggles and a half-hearted ‘trick or treat’s. I was totally unprepared, didn’t know the form, so, Scrooge-like, I ignored it until they went away.
But the following year, I armed myself with a huge stock of the above-mentioned sweets and jellies and emptied them into a rather nicely made, lined felt pumpkin so that I would have something to offer to the ‘trick-or-treaters’ – who never showed up! So, as by this time I was teaching at home, I placed the ‘pumpkin’ on the table for my pupils to help themselves to the revolting, teeth-rotting festive fare. And they seemed to appreciate it out of all proportion to what they were actually being offered!
I have the impression that Halloween is taken more seriously in the US than it is here, where we seem to just pay lip-service to the last day of October. Maybe I move in the wrong circles, but I have certainly never heard of anyone holding a Halloween Party or buying a Halloween greeting card. And I have to confess, that I really don’t understand what the choice of ‘trick or treat’ is supposed to imply! Perhaps someone can explain how it works in practice?
Maybe it’s because Halloween is so close to Guy Fawkes night, November 5th, a.k.a. Bonfire Night, that it seems to be a bit of a ‘damp squid’ in the UK? Though even that seems to be downplayed these days, compared to when I was a child. We don’t see the children with their ‘guys’ propped up in old prams, asking for a ‘penny for the Guy’ these days – most likely there's a law against it. And of course, the selling of fireworks is much more heavily regulated and we are, quite rightly, advised to leave the bonfires and fireworks to the experts who put on public displays. Even so the fire brigades and the A&E departments expect to be kept busy on November 5th or the nearest Saturday to it.
But the public displays are pretty tame compared to the ones I grew up with in the Isle of Wight. Huge crowds would gather at the playing field at the top end of the town where the summer carnival processions set off from. A lorry would appear carrying an enormous effigy of Guy Fawkes, painstakingly dressed in a Jacobean costume, complete with lace collar and shiny buckles on his shoes and hat! 'Guy Fawkes' would be paraded on the back of the lorry, down through the town to the beach, accompanied by fundraisers collecting pennies in buckets and carrying flaming torches and everywhere young lads would be letting off ‘bangers’ and frightening the crowd!
Once arrived on the beach, the 'Guy' would be hoisted on top of a bonfire that to me, as a child, seemed to be as tall as a house! And there he was rapidly devoured by the flames as the climax to a thoroughly exciting evening for which I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime! Even then I must have already developed a dislike of waste as the idea that the beautiful costume that someone had meticulously created should go up in flames after such a short outing, disturbed me and I was glad to go home at that point.
'Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!
I don’t know if this tradition still continues in the Isle of Wight and, if it does, it probably takes a much more ‘sanitised’ form to conform to Health and Safety Standards. But in any case, I do think that November 5th generally overshadows Halloween in the UK –
- unless, of course, you know otherwise!.