Sunday, October 31, 2010
Trick or Treat
Pity the poor children’s entertainer coping with thirty little darlings at last Friday’s village Halloween party. Dressed in evil black, he was showing off his magic skills, pulling snakes and cats out of hats. One small child had other ideas.
Izzy, who had absolutely no intention of sitting politely in a circle, toddled to centre stage and began throwing streams of gobbledygook questions at the man. He was trying to saw a child in half – he must have thought he’d chosen the wrong one. There was no stopping my daughter.
“Make her sit down”, shouted all the 3 year olds, while parents tutted disapproval. Izzy, who’d come as a cat princess with ghost ears, turned, giggled at her audience, then went over to the magician’s bag and pulled out all his tricks, spilling their secrets onto the village hall floor. It brought the house down. Through tears of laughter, Jo apologised to the assembled parents. “What can you do, she’s half-American, and she wants to get into the Hallowe’en spirit”. She pronounced it Holloween.
I don’t remember celebrating Hallowe’en as a child: I certainly never trick-or-treated. Was it a deprived childhood or am I right in thinking that we only became aware of it when we saw E.T.? I know it’s supposed to be an ancient custom, dating back to when our Celtic ancestors wore masks to ward off the dark spirits of approaching winter, but it only became a retail jamboree a few years ago. I couldn’t believe how seriously the Americans took the festival till I saw the huge bags of sweets we had to buy to placate the hordes of children in our Los Angeles neighbourhood.
Our Americanisation shows no bounds. We didn’t have school proms when I was young, and yet now all our teenagers are going to them, clad in hugely expensive outfits. I went to a prom when I was 17, but it was at the Royal Albert Hall and they played Mahler. I bet Izzy won’t be content with a cat costume when she goes to her first in just 16 years time.
Sadly one English tradition never crossed the Atlantic the other way. This morning Jo asked me, in all seriousness, to explain “your George Burns night.” I looked at her mystified. I wasn’t aware the comedian had been given his own festival. Mind you, lines like “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city” are probably worth remembering.
“You mean Robert Burns, the haggis man. That’s not till January.”
“No, it’s this Friday, your Burns night thing.”
Finally I twigged: Guy Fawkes. Jo couldn’t understand why we’d blow the cost of a decent handbag on some brightly coloured cardboard which we then incinerate. Only a Brit can appreciate the fun of standing in a damp garden trying to light a roman candle, or waiting for a catherine wheel to fall off its stick or a rocket to whimper into the air with a single pathetic star. All to celebrate the defeat of a catholic gunpowder plot to bring down the protestant king.
Apparently Guy Fawkes Night is in decline. It’s partly due to our elfin safety laws, but mostly because we haven’t worked out how to commercialise it properly. We still think of bonfire night as a homespun community activity. Even though the fireworks we watch from behind our safety barriers are getting more spectacular, there are no commercial products for our children to buy, now we’ve stopped them buying fireworks.
That’s why for the last fortnight our retailers have been forcing Hallowe’en masks, ghoulish costumes and latex skeletons into our shopping baskets, and we’ve readily succumbed.
This Friday Izzy, probably still wearing her ghost ears, will go “weee!” at her first firework display. Sadly, it could well be one of her last.