Thursday, October 28, 2010
A rant on the eve of Halloween
I buried my head in my coffee and groaned. It’s that time of year again.
You can’t go to the kids’ daycare without being assaulted by plastic spiders in faux webs, you can’t go to Walgreens without tripping over great piles of candy or having some moving skeleton cackle at you. What the devil is the big deal with Halloween in the US?
Desperately, and let’s face it you have to be, I turned to Wikipedia for help. I was informed Halloween is mainly observed in the USA, Canada, Ireland and Great Britain.
But this only tells half of the story. Halloween may be observed in Britain but what happens in the US is a bit more active than merely observing. It's the difference between seeing a bucket of maggots on TV and jumping into them, cackling like a madman.
In Britain Halloween is a night when you sit at home nervously watching TV hoping no trick or treaters will knock on the door because they are normally intent on robbing the house or throwing darts at your cat.
But America enters this strange trick or treat wonderland when it’s open season to knock on people’s doors and demand their candy. All of which is a bit scary in a culture where it’s perfectly legit. to shoot an intruder dead.
That’s the other thing that gets me about Halloween, the uneasy alliance between the schmaltzy and the downright sinister. Let’s just say the 1978 film Halloween doesn’t feature a lot of apple bobbing; just a psychopath going around stabbing kids to death.
And while I’m on a Halloween rant I’d like to know what exactly is the point of pumpkins? I’ve eaten pumpkin pie and drank pumpkin spice latte but I’ve never bought a pumpkin and roasted it like a potato. For a vegetable this large it strikes me as a horrendous waste of space. And what marketing person back in the day suddenly decided pumpkins should be the vegetable of Halloween?
There are probably so many unanswered questions because Halloween, like Christmas, has a rather mixed up genesis. There’s a link to the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and the festival of the dead called Parenetalia.
Historian Nicholas Rogers notes a link to the Celtic festival of Samhaim, a name that means “Summer’s end.”
So no link to witches and plastic spiders there then?
The idea of trick-or-treating is apparently linked to the Middle Ages. It resembles the late medieval practice of souling when poor folk would go door-to-door on Hallomas, asking for handouts.
In other words trick-or-treating had a social function, although arguably it still does today because when kids’ mouths are gummed up with candy they are less likely to complain about the other nefarious ills of kidworld.
So with heavy heart and a heavier still pumpkin shaped bucket I assume I’ll be trawling round the neighborhood again on Sunday. Because it’s there and everyone else is doing it.