Your children may love Halloween—but consider that this ruthlessly commercial candyfest is killing Bonfire Night. This noble British tradition must be restored to its rightful place; as part of the big societyby Andrew Martin / October 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
On the evening of 31st October—Halloween—my doorbell will ring, and on my doorstep there will be half a dozen children dressed in horror costumes, probably accompanied by a female adult, and they will all trill, “Trick or treat!”, tempting me to suggest a third option: that they all fuck off and I close the door.
Or perhaps I should sit the children down and tell them a story (I am CRB cleared, by the way). It would be about how every year, the big, bad Halloween monster attacks the beautiful fiery sprites of Bonfire Night, and how, if I ruled the world, I would put a stop to this before Bonfire Night is killed forever.
When I was a boy in the 1970s, Bonfire Night was the main event of the autumn. But if I had a lot of homework on, I might miss Halloween entirely. I remember, aged about eight, seeing an illuminated display on a window ledge and thinking, “That’s a big orange.” Slowly it dawned on me that it was a pumpkin.
But such has been the rise of Halloween that there was an outbreak of pumpkin rustling in Gloucestershire a few years ago (I see this as the plotline of a British comedy film starring various people from The Office), and while sales of fireworks are falling and bonfires are in decline, Halloween—meaning trick or treat—is now the biggest seasonal retail opportunity after Christmas.
Trick or treat, like most current British culture, is a US import, and its main sponsor over here has been Asda, which is American-owned. It is just as ruthlessly commercial, and as bad for the teeth, as that other American festival, “Sweetest Day,” on which Americans in certain states (the stupider ones, presumably) give each other sweets despite knowing perfectly well that the event was concocted by the confectionery manufacturers of Cleveland in the hope that people would do precisely that.
Yet there is no point in pretending that trick or treat is not ultimately British. The practice is a refinement of the “misrule” customs associated with the pagan festivals of Hallowtide, which marked the coming of winter. You, the respectable medieval burgher, were visited by some blokes from the local hovels, and given a choice. The first option was that you could offer them sweets—known as soul cakes—in return for which they would pray for the eternal repose of your soul…