As a write this post we’ve got the lights off at the front of our house and, instead of being parked on the drive, our car is parked in a nearby street. Why? It’s Hallowe’en.
It’s not that we live in a rough neighbourhood and I’m scared of the kids. It’s that I:
- can’t (as a historian/philosopher) see the point in it
- don’t wish to celebrate evil, even implicitly
- think that it’s 99% marketing-fuelled
Ten quick facts about Hallowe’en:
- It’s not a pagan festival.
- It was originally a couple of days of feasting without much religious or supernatural significance.
- Before the 8th century it was celebrated in May.
- It’s related to the enthusiastic ringing of bells by Catholics on All Souls Day to assist the passage of souls from purgatory.
- Hallowe’en traditions almost completely died out in England before the 20th century.
- Around this time, girls traditionally attempted to find out via various ‘signs’ – such as brushing their hair at midnight in front of a mirror – who they would marry.
- In 1950s England people either celebrated Guy Fawkes night or Hallowe’en, depending on geographic location.
- There was an ‘explosion of interest’ in Hallowe’en in the 1970s/80s and ‘trick or treating’ due to the influence of American TV series and films such as ET (1982) which depicted such scenes.
- Teachers have been accused of encouraging the spread of Hallowe’en celebrations to remove the focus on Guy Fawkes (‘Bonfire’) Night and associated safety concerns.
- Hallowe’en parties in England have been going since around the 1920s/30s and are now the busiest time of the year for fancy-dress hire shops.
So, in conclusion, dressing up as something scary and begging is not something I’ll be encouraging my children to do when they’re old enough. Whilst I could open the door and lecture each group of children, the words ‘water’ and ‘off a duck’s back’ spring to mind. And, to be honest, I don’t want to be ‘that guy’.
The power of the media and invented tradition is, unfortunately, too powerful.