Halloween- Scmalloween

What is all this fuss about Halloween? Does anybody remember when it all started here? Shops full of pumpkins, devil-suits, and tridents; parties with fancy-dress themes, gangs of kids wandering about, begging for sweets. I certainly have no memory of it, in London at least, until about 1990. It is yet another unwanted American import, alongside baseball caps, (Who knows the rules? Come on, tell me.) rap music, and McDonald’s. Driven by the Marketing Men, Supermarkets, and Television, desperate to fill the gap between Summer holidays, and Christmas.

Why do we always fall for this rubbish so easily?  Is there no tradition that cannot be sold on, re-packaged for British taste, and successfully marketed, until nobody remembers a time before it existed? What’s next, Thanksgiving? That would fit nicely into the space before Yuletide, and would increase turkey sales even more. We could all wear stove-pipe hats, and big Puritan collars, trying to pretend it was OK to swindle the Red Indians out of their lands for a few beads and trinkets. It wouldn’t matter that there were no Red Indians here, we could just make that bit up. Or maybe we could call them ‘Native Americans’, to make us feel even less guilty.

Nothing has value anymore. There is no special time left. Hot Cross Buns are available all year, pancakes can be bought anytime, then microwaved, to save the effort in making them. Tangerines are no longer a Christmas treat, any Tesco will have them in, anytime you want. We have slowly removed everything that we ever had occasion to anticipate excitedly, and to look forward to, as the seasons changed. Once we had lost all that, we had to search elsewhere for something to plan for, and along came Halloween. We can now arrange parties, or the appalling ‘Trick or Treat’ parades (Ask them for a trick is my tip!), and have everything from themed burgers, to pumpkin socks. How did we ever cope before?

I would love to take you back in a Time Machine. You would relish the prospect of Buns at Easter, delight at trying to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, and be unable to sleep on the night before Christmas. You would never have heard of ‘Grand-Parents’ Day’, and Halloween would be something that was ‘done’ in America.  Brazil nuts and tangerines would appear in December, be enjoyed briefly, and would not be seen again, until that time the following year. Baseball caps would be worn by baseball players, and some other people in The Americas, but not in England. If you wanted a snack, you would be happy with fish and chips, or pie and mash.

There is nothing wrong with American cultural celebrations. They even keep some of ours, like Christmas. But the newer ones should stay on that side of the Atlantic, along with their terrible fast food. That way, those that seek it, can travel there to enjoy it, and celebrate the differences in our societies and customs. We might even tell them that we used to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve as part of the Harvest Festival, and that Halloween is a Scottish corruption of that phrase. That would make it ours then, not American at all. Like most things, including many we have since discarded, they were taken to America by settlers. America does not have a culture as such, just an amalgamation of many of the cultures of its numerous settlers, and more recent immigrant populations. However, it is doing a fantastic job of re-exporting those traditions, whether we need them back, or not.

Surely it is enough to celebrate the difference in the various traditions and cultures of the many countries and societies in The World, without having to assimilate everything? As the French say- ‘Vive la difference’.

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43 thoughts on “Halloween- Scmalloween

  1. Tangerines at Christmas! Never heard of that one! Poor England! 🙂
    But I’ve always had a soft spot for A Christmas Carol!

    As for Halloween, that’s one I too can leave. Regards

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    1. We didn’t celebrate Halloween. We had ‘Duck Apple’.
      I don’t know why, or what it symbolized (most of it was symbolics to me), but it consisted of lines of string across the room with coin pierced apples tied to them (mainly half pennies, pennies and a couple of thruppences or a sixpence in one apple).
      The children would have their hands behind their backs and be spun around a couple of times and then they had to try and bite into the apples with their eyes closed.
      Any we ‘caught’ were ours and so was the money inside them.

      The bit that was the ‘duck’ part of ‘Duck Apple’ I hated.
      All the children would kneel down on the floor with hands behind their backs.
      In front of them would be a very big metal washing bowl. It was full of water with yet more coin stabbed apples floating on the top..
      The children would then start ‘bobbing’ for apples. You would try to get an apple by grabbing the stalk with your teeth and pulling the apple out of the water. About half the apples had had their stalks removed so you had to try and bite into those.
      The ‘duck’ bit was while you were trying to ‘bob’ for the apples, an adult would sneak behind you and ‘duck’ your head under the water (give you a ducking).
      This was supposed to be ‘fun’, but felt like you were being waterboarded when done a little too zealously. It nearly always ended in tears.

      In the evening of All Hallows Eve, we would light candles for people who had passed away that year.
      I could never sleep that night as we told that the spirits of the dead would be walking around.
      I would be lying with my head under the sheets terrified imagining every dark corner had a ghoul; waiting to grab me from my bed (I had a vivid imagination) and waiting for the illuminous-faced clock to get to 2 am before I’d feel that it was ‘safe’ to go to sleep.

      I know it sounds like some strange Victorian ritual, but this was up until just before Decimalisation in UK!

      And no, I did NOT carry on this tradition with my children.

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      1. Perhaps many of the traditions were here before the commercialism of the Holiday. it was know as Samhain and the pumpkin was probably a carved turnip, costumes was to trick the evil spirits that walked on that night that the veil between the worlds was thinned.

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        1. Indeed they are ancient traditions. But I just don’t like the begging for sweets, or the tacky outfits in the supermarkets, or…
          I could go on, but maybe it’s just because I am old and grumpy!
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Thanks! I think a lot of the Halloween ‘traditions come from Samhain. But I’ve not heard from anyone as to what Duck Apple was for (although I’ve not read all of my messages yet) I like the celebratory aspect of Samhain. Halloween trick or treat seems too commercialized for me

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        3. If I had a cow, and they managed to get it on the roof, that would be a sight to see, and worth celebrating. Fortunately, I also don’t possess an outhouse to be tipped over. I hope that they waited until nobody was using it!
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, ‘Apple-Bobbing’, now that is something quite ancient. Nice to read about the old money. I still work in that, in my head. I remember the day after Decimalisation, when everything had gone up 100% overnight! (I was about 20, I think)
        Best wishes, Pete.

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        1. Yes! I remember that also. Little old dears nearly in tears in the shops as they couldn’t get their head around why something that cost sixpence the day before, now cost a whole ‘shilling’ The new coins were nowhere as pretty as the old ones.

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  2. Oh, what a great post. Living here in Russia has opened my eyes to how American businesses have wrapped up the holidays in pretty little bows and have been trying to sell them across the entire world. It’s like saying everybody should love steak and potatoes, right? Wrong! A homogenous world becomes a very boring place that is controlled by businesses that have no true interests in the different cultures or their traditions. Personally I love spicy and bland needs to stay in the kitchen it came from. Pancakes anyone?

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    1. Glad you liked this one, it’s something of a personal crusade. I also wrote this, about the corruption of the English language. https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/americanese/
      Pancakes? Don’t get me started. We used to have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday in this country, for centuries. They were thin, with crispy edges, and always eaten with lemon and sugar. Now we are told that pancakes are American, and we are supposed to have them for breakfast, with eggs, or maple syrup. American ‘culture’ (a contradiction in terms, surely) is taking over the planet!
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. Let me tell you when I first started teaching English as a second language I had this fear that I was doing my students a dis-service. In my brain thoughts were running around asking the question, do these people really need it? I could see and still do that it not only brings the language but it brings the culture as well. I personally don’t like American culture, competitive, dog eat dog, individualistic and the list goes on. The only way I could keep my inner sanity on the subject was looking at the rest of the world. Indians speaks English and uniquely have their own culture. The Chinese are learning English but embracing communism, so American culture only invades to the extent that the people and governments allow them to do so. Here in Russia the American government and E.U. seem to think it’s okay to force Russia into westernized thinking which I’m totally against. I now believe that English creates opportunity and differences create balance. My biggest fear now is that the world will become too western-like and throw-off the rotation of the earth. But then again it may just come down to “are pancakes for breakfast or special events.” Isn’t it just how we look at it? Continue the crusade, I’m with you!

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  3. Up North we used to have Mischief Night, which as the name implies saw us going round the neighbourhood causing mischief. Window tapping, garden sneaking, knock and run, and quite a few that when I think back were quite irresponsible (we had fun) We never demanded any sweets, it’s was simply trick night. But the highlight of the whole event, considering we had spent the last month knocking on peoples doors to collect wood for our bonfire, was to sabotage the bonfire built by our rivals about 2 miles away. It wasn’t uncommon to have an early bonfire night!
    Thankfully Halloween hasn’t reached Poland yet, well at least not around here. It would take an age to walk from door to door 🙂

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      1. Not seen it Pete, but I’ll put in on my list, cheers! It looks like a harmless bit of fun, just like putting ink in someone’s swimming pool. A swimming pool in the late 70’s, they got what they deserved 🙂

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  4. Up until 2009, I used to spend time every year with a child (from toddler to early teen) on Halloween. We’d go shopping for pumpkins and gourds, then carve and decorate them. We used a lot of natural or household items in our creations. My favorite was pine cone “petals” (dorsal umbos with prickles) for teeth. Following this first phase of Halloween, we’d go “trick or treating” around the neighborhood. I always enjoyed this annual bit of quality time, which is gone forever.

    I do agree that we should not export Halloween or any other so-called American holidays to other countries. I also agree that here in the States that holidays have been commercialized far beyond reason. I think Halloween can be a lot of fun, and is basically harmless. If it weren’t for Christmas presents, Halloween would be most children’s favorite day of the year, with the only other possible exception being a much-anticipated birthday.

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    1. I think that your fond reminiscences prove my point well David. It is a uniquely American holiday, and one to be treasured- if you are American. I have no problem with you enjoying it at all.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

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  5. Halloween, when I was a kid, was sweet, simple and highly anticipated. Today, in the US anyhow, it’s Big Business. I enjoy the concept of Halloween as a Harvest Festival and appreciate why our forebears may have wanted to chase away bad spirits on All Hallow’s Eve with jack ‘o’ lanterns etc. I stick to the tradition of carving a jack ‘o’ lantern because it was a sweet part of my childhood but I no longer buy candy to give out at the door. I hate that everyone goes out to buy a costume when devising a costume from what was on hand or could be easily acquired was a lot of fun.

    McDonald’s et al = appalling. Sorry they’ve spread outside US borders. Sorry they’re so prominent within US borders. I don’t go there.

    If the issue of a national Thanksgiving ever comes up to a vote in the UK, I’d advise voting against it. It’s a terrible holiday despite all the schmaltzy hype. Of all the holidays we celebrate here, I think Thanksgiving is the worst.

    I went to the hardware store yesterday and discovered they’re already selling Christmas goods. I liked it when Christmas anticipation began the day after Thanksgiving and dislike that the Christmas season here seems to begin before Halloween.

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    1. The Christmas ‘rush’ starts in late September here Gretchen.
      I also hope that we never import ‘Thanksgiving’, though with the amount of other religions here, it is unlikely. It is a shame that the innocent Halloween of your youth is so commercialised now, but I guess that reinforces what I was on about.
      Best wishes from England, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for the link Pete – this is great! You ought to reblog this. I agree with you wholeheartedly, I think children today are starved of imagination and anticipation – everything is so instant and available. What do they have to look forward to? Father’s Day is another American import – came over here in the ’70s I believe. I know it didn’t exist when I was a child. Another guilt trip by the marketroids. Thank goodness we resisted Grandparents Day.
    Jude xx

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