Wednesday, November 16, 2005

All Hallows' Eve

A PumpkinHow can I have a blog on Americanization without discussing Halloween? Halloween is such a big festival in the US and we just experienced it for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

Halloween has gone full circle. Starting off as a Pagan festival, it was Christianized when the Church made it the eve of All Saints' Day (All Hallows' Day). For one night, the dead can walk the earth and make the most of it before the holy day arrives. Now, it is once again a Pagan festival, with All Saints' Day all but forgotten. Halloween itself, having survived its relegation to the position of "Eve" by the Church, is once again a festival in its own right. In fact, I recently saw an advert on the telly that claimed that October the 30th was the "eve of halloween" and, furthermore, that it was "mischief day".

Pagans 1, Christians Nil.

Witch's HatPerhaps I'm being too hasty in saying that the Pagans have won. In fact, many Christians resist the pull of Halloween. In the UK, may Christians just don't partake. Others actively resist by holding "alternative" celebrations for their youth clubs, to desuade them from going to the school's Halloween disco. All Saints' Day has not yet been forgotten.

In the USA, however, it is an entirely different story. Halloween is woven into the very fabric of the society and has maintained its Harvest roots. As far as I can see, Christians here have one of two responses:

  1. They put their hands up and say "What the heck, it's just a bit of fun!"; dress their kids up as witches, ghosts and zombies; and send them round the neighbourhood demanding "candy".
  2. They feel uncomfortable with the whole "ghosts and ghouls" business, so they emphasise that Halloween is really just a "Fall" (Harvest) festival. They can thus partake of the tradition of sending their kids out to get sweets simply by dressing them up as Disney Princesses or Power Rangers.

I'd like to finish this post by adding another interesting observation:

A PumpkinAlthough, in the USA, the celebration of Halloween is very much tied in with the Harvest festival (eg. the use of pumpkins and scarecrows), it seems to me that in the UK it is becoming more and more tied in with Guy Fawkes. I think that this is mainly related to the proximity of the two festivals (October 31st and November 5th). Let me know what you think.

If you are more than a little interested in Halloween and Guy Fawkes, try these linksA Pumpkin

All Hallows' Eve
The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows
Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night
History and legend behind Guy Fawkes

There's also a good "Canadian in Britain" view of Guy Fawkes at
The Anglo-File, Too: Bonfire Night

If you like British politics, you may also be interested in this political weblog:

Guido Fawkes' Blog

3 comments:

Helen said...

I too hate the way Halloween in our country has become "Trick or Treat" like in America. Malcolm and I hide away in our back room and do not answer the door. It is so intimidating I think for people on their own. I very much dislike the implied threat: something which I deplore, even though the Americans see it as a bit of fun! Actually on November 5th my car's front number plate was broken in half and the broken bit thrown under my car! Fortunately it only cost just over ten pounds to replace.

Viola said...

When we lived in the UK, we didn't get many "Trick or Treaters" and most that we did get were teenagers messing about. We also had an incident a couple of years ago when we were away at halloween. We returned home to find our front door covered in raw eggs.

In the US, however, it has taken on a community/family feel. Many people sit outside with their "couldrons" full of sweets waiting for children to come round. The children don't even bother saying "Trick or Treat" and the "Trick" part has pretty much gone out the window. In addition, most children are accompanied by their parents. The emphasis is mainly on fancy dress. Even this has largely lost its nether-worldly theme.

However, it must be borne in mind that although all this may be true in my neighbourhood, it's not necessarily true elsewhere. I met a man from New York who said that on Halloween night everyone makes sure their cars are in their garages and everything that can be put away is. He claimed that in the part of New York that he used to live, the "Trick" aspect was very much alive and kicking.

Michael said...

Thr trick part for us was when several college students (from my own ministry!) "rolled", i.e. spread long streams of toilet paper in our yard and in the trees!