If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Yes, we have always celebrated Samhain, although not as much in the last 1500 years, admittedly. And yes, there is a fine old English tradition of mumming and souling at this time of year. But this obsession (comercially-driven, of course) with Hallowe'en* is very recent. Very recent indeed.

Growing up in the North of England through the late 50s and 60s, Hallowe'en was barely mentioned. I recall some people's parents throwing Hallowe'en parties, where everyone turned up, the lights turned down, ghost stories were told, and things like peeled grapes were passed around the darkened room. They were supposed to end in a session of bobbing for apples**, which struck me as messy and essentially unproductive, and we usually ended up having a game of Sardines, especially if there were girls there. Hallowe'en itself was a bit naff, really. So this modern thing of 'celebrating' Hallowe'en is foreign to me. It's an unwanted import. Rampant commercialism, like Fathers' Day, Great-Grandmothers' Day, and Best-Friend's-Hairdresser's Brother-Who-Once-Played-For-Stockport-County Day.

The main tradition in the North of England for youngsters around this time of year was Mischief Night, always the night before Bonfire Night. The occasional firework was let off, there was a lot of knock and run, and once someone went down our entire street taking the gates off their hinges and piling them in the middle of the road. Annoying, but essentially harmless. That was a tradition I could get fully involved with. It wasn't until the 80s that I became aware of things like Trick or Treat. I lived in a small village in East Yorkshire just outside Hull at the time and the local kids started coming round asking for treats. We used to find something for them, but then one year they threw eggs at the front door without giving me the option, so next year I was waiting, in a stealth navy duffel coat, on top of the flat roof of the porch with a bucket of cold water. They arrived, they started arseing about, they got a big wet surprise, they left. I wouldn't dare today - they would probably return and behead the cat.

I put this down to Hull's fascination with Americana. At that time (and it may have changed) there were several junior American Football teams in the town, and if you had a girl child, you didn't send her to ballet class, but to drum majorettes, where they marched up and down in silly costumes, blowing kazoos and braining each other with lightweight maces. But it seems to have become a nationwide phenomenon, and it is plain that shops like Tesco wouldn't survive without the late October sales rush as people buy their kids Dracula outfits and bottles of fake blood.

Wogan, in the Torygraph, thinks it brings out his inner curmudgeon.
It may be the season of mellow fruitfulness and all that stuff, but for those of us in the autumn of our years, this is a weekend to batten down the hatches and repel all boarders.
Longrider (whence the link, tyvm) is equally unimpressed and is boycotting.
So, as in previous years, there will be a “no trick or treat” poster going on the door tomorrow and the doorbell will be ignored. Oh, yeah, I’ve never given a penny for the Guy, either.
I don't blame him, although for myself I am unmoved either way. If people enjoy it, then good luck to them. If it brings more scantily-clad young ladies out onto the streets in a state of helpless inebriation, then who am I to object? Mind you, living at the end of a track leading off a road which is itself in the middle of nowhere helps - it would be a determined trick-or-treater with a decent torch to venture this far from civilisation.

Bobbing for apples; and, now I remember, we sometimes used to hollow out turnips to make a lantern, mainly to please our Mums. Nowadays it's pumpkins, mummy costumes, ghoul make-up and a night on the lash.

O tempora, o mores!

* Oh, and by the way, Hallowe'en is a contraction of 'All Hallows' Even(ing)', and the apostrophe is therefore necessary. 'Halwe' was the Old English word for 'soul'. It is NOT 'Halloween', whatever Google, Wikipedia and the entire Internets say.

** My favourite Dorothy Parker quote: "Ducking for apples. Change one letter, and it's the story of my life."


  1. "Oh, and by the way, Hallowe'en is a contraction of 'All Hallows' Even(ing)', and the apostrophe is therefore necessary."

    Ah, another bugbear of mine, seeing it spelt without...

  2. My life is full of bugbears, sadly.


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