Damian Thompson: Britain is sick of the American cult of Halloween
This is the only time of year when I become seriously anti-American. Our national media, retailers and brainwashed children have all been sucked in to the American cult of Halloween, which demands that shops deck out their windows with feeble pumpkin displays and your doorbell is rung every five minutes by infants dressed as vampires, demanding presents. The modern Halloween was created by Americans. Over in the States, an entire nation throws itself into a fancy dress party with a naive enthusiasm that comes naturally to Yanks. We, on the other hand, have only recently adopted Halloween, and we do it self-consciously, like embarrassed guests forced to play charades by a tyrannically cheerful host.
Ryan McMaken: All Hail Halloween!
I don’t fault Thompson and his fellow Brits for hating Halloween at all. The dreary streets of London suburbs simply don’t mesh with the spirit of Halloween, and I’m reminded of the one Halloween I spent in Rome where tiny children wandered through the streets (all dressed in identical witch or ghost costumes) and begged shopkeepers and restaurateurs for some kind of treat that I couldn’t identify. So no, Europeans don’t know a good Halloween any more than they know a decent hot dog, so I don’t begrudge Thompson or his brethren on the continent.
But what a magnificent American festival it is. The smell of candles burning inside pumpkins, the sound of crunching leaves beneath our feet, and the chance to dress up and beg for free candy are all a recipe for childhood memories that easily rival the fun of even Christmas. It’s the trick-or-treating that the Brits seem to hate the most, but in America, the act of going door to door to beg for treats is as American as candied apples and pumpkin pie. Indeed, going door to door for treats was once considered the thing to do on numerous holidays. Thanksgiving especially was once considered a day for treat-hunting throughout the neighborhood, and for impromptu and raucous parades of strangely dressed citizens looking for a fun time.
Halloween has never been a government-sanctioned holiday, so it is all the more encouraging that trick-or-treating thankfully survives in spite of all the efforts of fear-mongering suburbanites and crazed religious devil-fighters who do their best to ruin the holiday every year. If foreigners can’t appreciate the sheer fun and exhilaration of such a festival, so be it. I can’t stand it when Americans act like there’s no such thing as a uniquely American culture. While the idea of the jack-o-lantern may come from an Irish version made from turnips, the modern jack-o-lantern, made from pumpkins, which are native to the Americas, is as American as they come. And when we think of the elements of Halloween with its dark forests and headless horsemen and gothic freaks and menacing ravens, we are taking a page from the works of writers like Washington Irving and the inimitable Edgar Allen Poe who is the undisputed father of the American horror movie, the ghost story, and the American folklore behind haunted houses and masquerade balls. Yes, tales of werewolves and monsters, and even Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster come to us from Europeans, but that unique feel of Poe-ish gothic creepiness within a chilly North American autumn is what we all strive to re-create every 31st of October. What Halloween is complete without a recitation of “The Raven?” And who would let a Halloween go by without carving a jack-o-lantern? Hopefully few of us would be so thankless as to let such a great American opportunity pass.
Pumpkins and Halloween
Throughout Britain and Ireland, there is a long tradition of carving jack-o-lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip. Not until 1837 does the jack-o’-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern, and it doesn’t become associated with Halloween until 1866, in North America. In the United States, the carved pumpkin was first associated with the harvest season in general, long before it became an emblem of Halloween.
The Origins Of Halloween – good read!