Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Halloween

Around this time of year, you tend to get a lot of (mostly) Americans expressing horror at the idea that I (and the French) didn't grow up celebrating Halloween. Don't I feel like I missed out? Well, no, actually. To take the example of another festival going on right now, it's like asking if you (presuming you don't celebrate it) feel like you've been missing out on Diwali for all these years. I'm guessing your probable reaction would be something along the lines of "looks great, it would be fun to take part in some time, but it's not part of my culture so no, I don't feel as though I missed out on it".

Sure, as a kid it would have been great to dress up and get given a lot of free chocolate by people. Well, actually, maybe not so much the dressing up part. We weren't really a "dressing up" family. Infamously, one year when I was about 5 or 6 (and my Mum is probably going to cringe hearing this brought up again), for the school Book Week my older brother got kitted out as Biggles (fictional ace fighter pilot) which included having the plane built around him, whereas I (the family's limited energy for That Sort Of Thing having been exhausted) got to go as The Paper Bag Princess. In case you're wondering, to the best of my recollection, that involved cutting a neck-hole in a heavy paper rubbish sack and sending me off to school in it. I couldn't sit down in the thing all day. Apart from school plays, I remember dressing up one other time as a kid, which was Pippi Longstocking (also for Book Week, I think). I can't remember what Pippi Longstocking wears exactly, but I think it consisted mostly of stripey tights and putting my hair in plaits with wires in to make them stick out. So yeah, not really ones for going all out in that department.

But even as a kid, I was aware of Halloween from books, and I honestly don't remember feeling like I wished I could take part in it. Sure, I wished I could be like Claudia Kishi with exotic-sounding American "candy" stashed all around my room, but I never remember wishing to acquire said candy at Halloween. (How I longed as a child to be eating HoHos and Babe Ruths and whatever else you have. Then I grow up and discover almost everything has peanuts in it. Gross. I have a (stupid) theory that the chief cultural divide between Europe and the United States is that, in America, everything has peanuts in it, and in Europe, everything has hazelnuts in it...) If anything, I wanted to be a little English girl enjoying Devonshire teas and lashings of ginger beer on the lawn, not a little American girl going trick or treating and watching out for razor blades in my apples (seriously, what kid wants apples if there's chocolate on offer anyway? It's like how my Mum and Dad - sorry, Santa - used to put an apple and an orange in my Christmas stocking because that was a treat when they were little. War's over, Mum and Dad!).

And as an adult, the whole idea of Halloween (other than strictly adult-only costume parties involving lots of booze - and even then, I still don't really have the dressing-up gene) appalls me. I'm going to sound like the Halloween version of the grinch, but I don't like children. The idea of having troupes of them coming to my door and demanding MY chocolate is the stuff of nightmares as far as I'm concerned. (Now I probably am going to have a nightmare about it and wake up screaming, "My chocolate! My chocolate!" and chewing the pillow.) And the whole idea of 'trick or treat' is really offputting. I don't know whether in real life people actually go around egging houses or throwing toilet paper in trees like in the movies, but the underlying concept of "give us stuff or we'll exact our revenge" is horrible. It kind of reminds me of the tipping thing - again, I expect in real life it's not as extreme as you see on TV, but the whole trope of the badly-tipped waitress spitting in your food or your mailman breaking your packages etc. is just nasty from where I'm standing.

As with most aspects of American culture, Halloween seems to be catching on more and more at home (at least when I left). Next thing you know we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving... Of course I don't think this is any sort of deliberate cultural imperialist ploy by the average American citizen - for one thing, my English Dad (I don't have an English Dad and another Dad, just to be clear) has stories of carving turnip lanterns at Halloween as a kid (much to the general mirth of the family, who think that's about the most country bumpkin-ish thing we've ever heard) - but it is in the interest of American (and other) manufacturers of chocolate, decorations, costumes etc. to rope as many people around the world into these things as they can. Add in all the American films, TV, and books and Halloween just becomes normal to the younger generations. Well, fun as it may be (and I don't begrudge anyone else celebrating it, nor am I saying that I am anti celebrating it myself) it's never been an important thing to me, and that's why I've never felt cheated out of growing up with Halloween.

(PS I feel I should say that I realise this might come off as anti-American - it's not meant to be, I respect you have your traditions and that Halloween isn't a purely American invention anyway, I'm just trying to explain my cultural perspective on things. Also, this isn't aimed at any specific person, I've just heard it a lot over the years that French people are missing out on Halloween, or I've missed out on Halloween, so this is just something to think about if at this time of year you're looking around you at the lack of Halloween celebrations here in France and thinking "oh those poor kids". It would suck to be the one kid out of everyone you know who's not participating, but if no-one is, I don't think you really care.)

14 comments:

  1. I'm not big on Halloween either. I don't miss it at all in France! Thanksgiving, though, I do miss.

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  2. I just think it must be so exhausting for you guys - Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years! I couldn't do it, especially since my birthday is in the middle of all that too. I already feel kind of worn out by early January!

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  3. Oh I say!!!! Cringe cringe. In my defence: the hugely impressive plane was made by Gwan's Dad - it wasn't me favouring one child over the other. Gwan picked the short straw. And I was a working mum (which I now feel guilty about in any case!). Oh dear, I was desperate and didn't think about poor Gwan having to actually wear it all day (including sitting down in it!!) But she knows I love her, hahahaha. XXXXXX

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  4. Don't be silly, I'm proud to have a Mum (and Dad) who managed work and study and look after their kids. And Lord knows if I ever had a kid it would probably be dressed in a sack every day, not just on special occasions! xx

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  5. I'll have you know that your mother has just discovered that the turnip lanterns were the original lantern and only became pumpkins when (presumably) the Americans couldn't get hold of turnips. Oh how I miss the smell of burning turnip.......

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  6. Its halloween and there are trick and treaters at the front door. Your mother and I are hiding in the garden shed in case they find us. Oh joy!

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  7. I was a turnip lanterner too (because in Scotland we actually still eat turnips :-) ). I think Halloween is pretty traditional in the UK and not just an imported fad (which it feels like in France). In Scotland at least kids go guising, where you get dressed up but have to sing a song or tell a joke to earn your chocolate. Much more moral, I feel!

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  8. Sorry Canedolia, I'm going to have to put you on the list (along with my Dad and Baldrick) of people whose sole ambition in life is the acquisition of turnips ha ha ;)

    Carving a turnip lantern sounds difficult I must say.

    And you don't have a garden shed Dad, but is it true about hiding from trick-or-treaters?

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  9. Eating neeps in scotland, I don't beleeeeve it. You'll be wearing kilts next.

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  10. We have a greenhouse wreathed in ivy so there.

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  11. And we also have a fine garden shed at taupo which you've never seen. So as you can tell I'm becoming quite a shed person.

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  12. I think that as American expats, we imagine that everybody else must have missed out because we are currently missing out. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday (and the "revenge" stuff is strictly for TV and not real-life) and I hate that I won't be able to give my child the same memories. Half the fun of it is the preparation and the surprise. I loved thinking up what I wanted to be, making my own costume, and then showing it off to all of my friends and family. My brothers and I would compete to see who could get the most candy, and then the candy swap negotiations that last from Halloween to Christmas are priceless.
    I told my neighbor we were going to carve a pumpkin and I was trying to find a word for "jack-o-lantern". She looked at me and said, "decorations?" -- I wanted to say, no! It's not decorations! It's memories! It's roasted pumpkin seeds and time spent with family and making a better pumpkin than everybody else on the block. But to her, it's just a decoration, and they are just costumes, and it's just candy. Hard to accept when I want to spread the joy, but you're right.. it's cultural, and it'll never be the same outside the US.

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  13. Sounds like you are a bit homesick Amber. Yes, it is hard when you have moved to a new country and your child is going to grow up in a different culture, so I understand. But there are many positives, too, as your culture will definitely rub off on him and he will probably have the best of both worlds. I am so glad I had my children in New Zealand, not England, and although they are Kiwis, there is definitely something extra in their make-up!

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  14. It must be hard for you Amber, but if it helps, I don't think Victor will feel like he's missing out on it necessarily. It's true though, I did wish that I could be English like my parents and like the characters in the books I read as a little girl, but in the long run it just adds an extra element to your character like my mum (bossyi) says.

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