Ah, Halloween. Traditional in England since...er...a few years ago.
I may be in the minority, but we didn't 'do' Halloween when I were a lad. Maybe it was the proximity to Guy Fawkes, with its soggy catherine wheels, short-lived sparklers and half-baked potatoes; maybe we hadn’t yet recovered from the breathless excitement of Harvest Festival; maybe it was simply not in our consciousness except as an annual episode in Peanuts cartoons.
That is how I knew about it. If it hadn’t been for Linus van Pelt and his attempts to lure the Great Pumpkin to his achingly (nay, eye-wateringly) sincere pumpkin patch, I would have grown up not knowing about Halloween at all.
Poor Linus. The thought of his forlorn annual vigil still gives me a hollow feeling in the stomach. Never mind Charlie Brown’s regular attempts to kick the football or to steer the latest in an endless series of kites away from the clutches of the rapacious kite-eating tree. Sad though they were, those failures epitomised Charlie Brown’s lot in life. You could almost say they validated his existence. What use, after all, is a failure who cannot fail?
Linus, though, was erudite, well-read, refined. He could look at a cloud formation and see a map of British Honduras or the profile of the sculptor Thomas Eakins, where Charlie Brown merely saw a ducky and a horsey; he was prone to quoting the Gospels, and saying things like “there is no heavier burden than great potential”; for ‘show and tell’ he hand-drew facsimiles of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Ok, so maybe he was a bit pompous, but this tiny failing was offset by his attachment to his security blanket, and especially by his touching belief in the Great Pumpkin. The annual pumpkin patch episode became part of the Peanuts canon, as indispensable as Beethoven's birthday, Joe Cool, or Lucy's psychiatrist's booth. One year, Linus was the runaway leader in the polls for Class President, only to blow it in his final speech, which opened with the words "let me tell you all about the Great Pumpkin".
If the romance of the Great Pumpkin made Halloween a more attractive prospect to this eight-year-old, trick or treating left me stone cold. Don’t get me wrong. The greed I displayed at Christmas (to take a small representative sample) would have qualified me for a career as a merchant banker or Premiership footballer, but at least there was the pretence of reward for good behaviour.
Trick or treating, on the other hand, seemed to me extortion, plain and simple.
Now I’m all grown up and everything, and at least partially responsible for the ethical moulding of a little person who is cast disturbingly in my own image, I’ve started examining these festivals, as far as is possible, from the child’s point of view. So I started thinking “what exactly is the message we send the younger generation on our annual holidays and festivals, especially now so many of them have lost touch with their religious or secular origins?”
The results are quite revealing:
New Year: celebrate new beginnings and reassess your drab, worthless life. Preferably do this when hungover. Join a gym for a month.
Valentine’s Day: if you are not in a relationship, you are sad and lonely, quite beyond redemption. If you are in a relationship, and do not allow yourself to be ripped off to the tune of forty quid for a bunch of roses, and eighty for a substandard ‘romantic meal for two including bottle of wine and mid-meal serenading by an out-of-work gipsy violinist’, followed by another seventy for a pair of tickets to a Valentine’s Day concert ‘including a rose for every lady in the audience’, you are an abject apology for a human being.
Mother’s Day: assuage your guilt with a phone call and a bunch of daffs.
Easter: commemorate the death and miraculous rebirth of the one who is the embodiment of goodness and universal love, the Easter Bunny. Consume a quantity of chocolate the size of Basingstoke.
Father’s Day: boys - watching sport on the telly all day and not lifting a finger to help with the housework is fine for limited periods. See if you can make such periods last all year.
May and August Bank Holidays: random days off are fine when, for no known reason, officially sanctioned.
Harvest Festival: give out-of-date tinned peaches to old people.
Halloween: form gangs and roam the streets extorting goodies from innocent householders with scarcely-veiled threats of unnamed violence.
Guy Fawkes night: down with terrorism, especially when it’s incompetent.
Christmas: generosity, forgiveness, peace on Earth, goodwill to all men. Never mind all that touchy-feely rubbish: spend money you don’t have on stuff that will be jettisoned by the recipient within a week; buy industrial quantities of food and drink that you wouldn’t consider consuming during the rest of the year; eat until you resemble a barrage balloon that’s won a ‘best Mr. Creosote impersonation’ competition; pretend that staggering to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk is ‘walking it off’.
Well, there it is. Annual holidays holding a mirror up to modern society. Inspiring, isn’t it?