This needs some explaining. When I was a child Hallowe’en was about cowering in the living room with the light off to avoid the eggs and flour being pelted by boisterous teenagers. And this didn't just happen on the 31st October, but for a period of up to two weeks.
I was taught that trick or treating was akin to begging, afterall it is a little strange to knock on the door of a complete stranger and ask for sweets.
Then I moved to America. These guys know how to party. Hallowe’en is a family affair with hoards of parents and children on the streets, dressed up in every costume imaginable. It didn’t have to be anything ghoulish or ghastly. We even saw a horse dress as Clifford the big red dog. We joined in, and apart from the ridiculous amount of confectionary that would send a toddler hyperactive for a decade, it was a fun event that allowed us to feel part of the fabric of our new home.
So why was it different? For a start the local council stipulated when trick or treating could take place; not just the day, but the hours too. It was also known that if you didn’t want to get involved you simply left your porch light off, avoiding the element of “trick” altogether. Really this is treat or treating.
More than anything it’s the irony that gets me, wrapped up in the distance past.
The origins of Hallowe’en are intertwined: first there was the Celtic pagan festival to mark harvest and the end of summer, and then came the Christian celebration on the Eve of All Hallows. Yes, All Hallows’ Evening becomes contracted to Hallowe’en. From as far back as the 11th century, food was given in exchange for a poem or song. It wasn’t until the 19th century that tricks were involved.
Strictly speaking the festival doesn’t belong across the pond at all. It was introduced by immigrants, although the phrase “trick-or-treat” was first used in the US, in 1927.
Confusing, isn’t it? Even the church is confused. I’ve seen a pumpkin with a Christian cross carved out of it. I’m not sure how I feel about the church endorsing a festival that is so intrinsically linked to Pagans, or begging by another name.
The changing face
We’ve now returned to the UK after nearly seven years, and this year’s Hallowe’en has been a much more orderly affair. We live in a fairly rural area so trick-or-treating isn’t really done; the lanes are too dark, the houses are too far apart and I think there is a greater respect for elderly neighbours.
However, other neighbourhoods have been getting organised. Hallowe’en happens on the 31st October and that’s where is should stay. The role of the porch light seems to be understood. Children are accompanied by adults, rather than the marauding hoards of bored teenagers. It’s about children, and of course the children are excited about sweets. I hope all neighbourhoods are experiencing this changing face. It could be a great way to invigorate our communities.
I can’t change that Hallowe’en occurs, but I can get into the spirit of it, and it looks like everyone else is too.
What’s your Hallowe’en experience? Like it or loathe it?