Why do us Brits have such a sniffy attitude towards Halloween? Around this time of year I hear all sorts of miserable excuses for not taking a single fang of interest: Young kids trick or treating is nothing more than begging (this gem was from my own Father!), it’s an American thing, it’s all commercial and too expensive, my great grandmother was burnt as a witch and it brings back bad memories. Seriously, I’ve heard them all, and they’re all an absolute crock.
I love it all: costumes, decorations, a good scary movie, haunted house parties with 40% proof spirits, and trying not to lose any fingers on the pumpkin carving. And how about the kids coming to your door dressed up and hopped up on chocolate-covered lumps of bubblegum-flavoured kiddie crack pellets of pure sugar? Honesty, how the hell can anyone call that begging? It’s just a bit of fun… with a hint of type-1 diabetes. Cheer up!
Begging is what those overly friendly charity workers on the high street engage in. Armed with a clipboard, a bright yellow t-shirt and a stupid grin, they try to talk you out of your bank account details, with a guilt-laden script provided by a worthwhile charitable trust that needs every penny possible. However, these efforts fall flat when it transpires that the charity in question is paying said stupid, yellow, grinning bastard an attractive hourly rate so they can annoy the shit out of you.
It’s intrusive, fucking annoying and all perpetuated by adults… and not exactly in the same realm as a seven year-old Dracula asking for a few sweets. If you don’t agree then don’t open the sodding door! Pretty simple isn’t it?
Halloween is also the one time of year I absolutely long to be in Florida. In all fairness, I always want to be in Florida, but it’s more keenly felt around the witching season. That’s not to say I buy into the second excuse mentioned above, quite the opposite in fact. All Hallows’ Eve isn’t just an American thing – they just seem to embrace the tradition more than anyone else, and as a result, do it so much better.
Spooky shops materialise in empty lots, and dematerialise all the money in your wallet – leaving us all with a sense of being robbed by Casper the friendly pickpocket! Spirit Halloween is a particularly good store that appears for a few months in the Orlando suburbs and is usually filled with an array of plastic stuff provided by our trade partners in China. We have similar places in the UK, filled with the same shit. I’ve purchased my fair share of Halloween ‘merch’ from these places, to the extent where I can now read Mandarin and have a desire to occupy Tibet.
Sticking with the American thing for just a minute longer, the Florida theme parks also have their say in the proceedings too, and are again another reason why I would sell a kidney to be stateside during this time of year. The cash registers ring for Universal Studios and their legendary Halloween Horror Nights. Disney has Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (check out the below photo), SeaWorld have their Spooktacular and Busch Gardens hosts the annual Howl-o-Scream event.
And to top it all, you have craft beers with their seasonal brews – Shipyard, Dogfish Head, Blue Point and a hundred others. It’s a time for pumpkin bread, candy corn, pumpkin spiced latte and Count Chocula cereal. Jesus, it’s beautiful!
Yes, I can hear you… “Aha! You have just accepted the third excuse on your list… it is too expensive and disgustingly commercialised!” And yes, you are right; the examples above all have a nice price tag. But it doesn’t have to be all about the money.
How about a little time with the kids making a costume, some candles, a jack-o-lantern, and a few bags of sweets for anyone who knocks on the door? Your best scary stories with a few episodes of Scooby-Doo and you’re good to go. Regardless of which side of the pond you reside, you could do all of this for a fraction of the price a theme park will charge you (in the case of Universal Studios a Frequent Fear pass for Halloween Horror Nights 24 is coming in at $86.99, that’s £54.00 for 16 nights entry – damn good value in its own right!).
As a semi-responsible father to a four year-old, my time dreaming of the theme park scare events are currently suspended, and a cheaper Halloween family tradition is heading my way. This year I have the day off work and I intend to spend every minute of it with my son: making his costume, preparing the house, carving the lantern, trick or treating and doing all things spooky. I have Blackbeard’s Ghost and The Haunted Mansion on DVD, and a few scary stories up my sleeve for when the night comes to a close.
So what’s left on the excuse front? Ah yes, your great grandmother, the sorcerer! Well, this is even more reason for us British folk to gather around the cauldron and celebrate a holiday we hand a fair hand in creating. Whilst originating as a Celtic tradition, centuries of pagan history, Druid rituals and white witchcraft have all recognised the importance of celebrating the dead as keenly as they would the living. All Hallows’ Eve, All Saint’s Eve, Allhallowtide, it has gone by many names and has been consistently observed, in one form or another, since the Roman Empire. How do ya like those (bobbing) apples?!?
In the UK, we have thousands of haunted castles and stately homes, all with their own terrifying stories of grey ladies, headless monks, and blood-soaked servants wailing down the corridors. We gave the world Charles Dickens, M. R. James and Yvette Fielding. Ours is a history steeped in the supernatural – why the hell wouldn’t we take one night out of the year to recognise it? We celebrate a terrorist every 5th November, why not Will-o’-the-wisp?
The truth is there is no attitude, not anymore. I think Halloween for us Brits is a generational thing, which is becoming more prolific within our shops, and more acceptable within our homes, as time continues to bring a new batch of accepting parents. For the record, my parents hated the time of year, and did precious little to celebrate it. I would like to think that my son is destined to have nothing but fond memories of Halloween, and of how the house was always decorated, Mum was usually the casualty of a few scares, and mischief was always encouraged by his stupid Father.
Paul Millard 2014
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