“Suddenly it’s Christmas right after Halloween forget about Thanksgiving it’s just a buffet inbetween!”
This line comes from a song by the brilliant and always entertaining Loudon Wainwright III and its sentiment of irritation towards the commercial creep that now owns all our yearly festivals is one that I am feeling more and more as I get older. But for me the commercial creep is made worse by the fact that there is also a silent form of cultural imperialism happening which is denaturing what was, as I recall, the truly Scottish festival of Hallowe’en and its associated traditions.
But now we have the pumpkin. We have Trick or Treat. We have families buying costumes for their kids. We have lost what Hallowe’en was to us as Scots and in that process we have swallowed the American Disneyfied commercially driven festival and allowed it to replace something that was ours.
I’ve noticed this year on year and have muttered my concerns to myself but last night what I saw in my local supermarket drove me to write a blogpost about this state of affairs!!! There it was – a Trick or Treat fest with a full aisle of Hallowe’en costumes and props, based on the horror movie genre, to purchase. Another spendathon. Not only that but food and drinks are all being labeled with Hallowe’en style packaging. Chi-ching, chi-ching, chi-ching! Have a look!
This may seem a trivial thing to have a rant about but I do feel that we have lost something here and I wonder what it says about us a people when we can so easily allow our own traditions to be denatured in this way. Imagine what we in Scotland would say if we were given the chance to run our own affairs!
When I was a boy Halloween meant two things: guising and a neep lantern. When Hallowe’en came around my friends and I would dress up in our dads’ old clothes and wear things like our grandads’ soft hats to ‘disguise’ ourselves. We would then go knocking on doors and ask, “Any Guisers” as our neighbours’ doors were opened. Generally this motley crew of kids dressed in oversized clothes would be shown in to the living rooms where we would then duly perform a song, recite a poem, do a magic trick or tell a few jokes. This was the deal – you had to do this and in return you were given money. It was all linked to the age-old idea that mischief was afoot and us youngsters were the harmless mischief-makers bringing a bit of mirth and levity to homes just as the dark nights began to roll in. We also carried our neep lanters (neep is the Scottish word for turnip). We would have spent ages carving out the inside of the solid neep before etching out a scary face that would be illuminated by candles. String would be tied to them and they would accompany the guisers as they marched around the neighbourhood. Even that stalwart of Scottish identity oor Wullie would proudly show off his neep lantern!
Now when Hallowe’en comes around we get loads of kids in their Karloff and Lugosi outfits knocking on the door screaming ‘Trick or Treat”. I hide my Victor Meldrewesque gripe as they come in and tell their joke and hand out their plastic Hallowe’en buckets to be filled with Treats! Bah, humbug! (oops, wrong sesaon)
Although I will be faced with vampires, zombies, werewolves, creepers and the occasional Frankenstein's monster on the 31st October I fear that I will still be most unsettled by the monster that Hallowe'en has become.