It feels lucky to live in a country that has four seasons; or at least, for the majority of my life there has been a spring, summer, autumn and winter. I have also been lucky enough to have lived most of my life in places where the waxing and waning of the seasons could be clearly seen and experienced.
One of my early memories of the tiny, village school I attended is the Halloween party we’d have. There would be a tin bath of apples in water for us to try ‘bobbing’ for and iced buns on strings we’d have to eat without using hands, games like ‘Blind Man’ Buff’ and ‘Squeak Piggy Squeak’. At the end of the day our headteacher, a stern, formidable woman, would read us an abridged version of the Scottish story of Tam O’Shanter, from an epic poem by Robert Burns, which tells of a drunken man who spies on partying witches on All Hallows’ Eve and is pursued by them. Even once I knew the ending it never failed to induce a delicious terror as Tam rode furiously towards the river to attempt to shake off the witches and his poor mare got her tail pulled off.
Nowadays Halloween has been hijacked by the American custom of ‘trick or treat’, a pursuit we knew nothing of as children. The shops are packed with elaborate costumes ranging from pumpkin to Dracula, from devil to zombie. I have even spotted a first, newborn-sized all-in-one suit decorated with a skeleton and tried to imagine who might buy such a garment.
We live on a street with few young families and rarely get mugged on our own doorstep for ‘treats’. I do, however take a dim view of the entire operation. It is not a British tradition. It is begging. If the tots are accompanied by their parents the parents should know better. If they are not, the parents should be prosecuted for neglect. This may seem a humbug attitude to those for whom a traditional, British experience of the seasons is unknown but I am unapologetic. The year’s milestones and celebrations should be simple, grass roots affairs, not monopolized by gift shops or inundated with marketing opportunities.
Thankfully, although fireworks have become as ubiquitous as talent shows, our very own, English November 5th revelries are as yet little known in the wide world. A few years ago I happened to be returning by plane at night from a trip away and as the plane began to make its descent over London a rash of colourful explosions spread over the sky below us, prompting fellow passengers to exclaim in surprise. Of course they know nothing of Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot and I’m sorry to say I felt a little smug, despite not having celebrated bonfire night for many years. At least this is one celebration we can still call our own!