Today is the feast of Saints Simon and Jude but few if any will be celebrating such an apostolic day, and there are no physical signs in the community that, yes, today is a true Red Letter Day. For all eyes are turned to Friday night, the eve of All Saints’ Day. All Hallows Eve. Halloween. And from that extravaganza there is no escape.
My boyhood memories of Halloween are more than sparse, and I think it fair to say that we did little if anything to mark the day. I do recall bobbing for apples in an enormous half-barrel, towel tied around my neck. And also visiting the manor house where apples were suspended on strings from a frame of bean poles. But that is about it. There were no pumpkins, carved or otherwise (it was a rare vegetable in the garden of England) and absolutely no costumery. All in all it was a non-event.
There is some valid research about the roots of Halloween, and a lot more dreadful scholarship. A pan-European, Celtic, pagan, Christian, voodoo, African, medieval and modern festival. One can believe what one chooses about where the popular event is grounded. But the unavoidable truth is that what we call Halloween in 2014 is unmistakably and unashamedly American in manufacture. Its provenance draws on a broad variety of immigrant traditions, often reinvented, which have been harnessed to an aggressive marketing culture – and can be dated to no earlier than the 1920s.
I mean no harsh negative criticism. It’s all a bit of fun, although the retailing of what is essentially a “nothing-fest” gives rise to some concern. For Halloween is essentially meaningless and empty. And to me it is ever-so-slightly alien. And why is bright orange the adopted Halloween color?
Decades ago in a Worcestershire village we didn’t have illuminated witches, skulls, spiders or ghouls in our gardens. In October we had celebrated other things closer to home as the harvest drew the farming year to a close. And then we looked forward to a party that was very real. Wood was piled up in fields, and old clothes, tied up with sisal, were stuffed with newspaper to shape the effigy of the Guy. Forget Halloween. We were anticipating November the Fifth!