By Phil Le Brun
Halloween is upon us once again in a barrage of orange plastic, fake blood, and diabetes-inducing sugar consumption. Britain has fully embraced what was once seen as an Americanised holiday on a par with Spring Break and Homecoming. Over the past few years, there has been a gradual transition that has built momentum until this point. There was once a time when Halloween meant apple bobbing in the bucket your Dad used to wash the car and donning homemade costumes that disintegrated within a couple of hours. Wrapping yourself in toilet roll made you a mummy, black bin bags became Vampire capes and pipe cleaners were scary cat whiskers. For the kids of today, it’s Amazon ordered Elsa from Frozen and Iron Man costumes, a Pinterest inspired ‘spooky cupcake’ recipe, and parents competitively harvesting Instagram content with elaborate pumpkin carving.
Much like the NFL, plasticky cheese, and light beer, Halloween has been Fedexed across the pond in brightly colored packaging ready for us to binge. We’ve fallen into this ‘Fall’ celebration as schools start hosting end of year ‘Proms’ and another diner-inspired popup opens in Shoreditch serving cherry pies topped with whipped cheese and crispy bacon.
For me, Halloween now means a dutty club night that smells of fake blood, where city boys dress as sweaty zombies and girls dress as shivering sexy cats, or uncomfortably chilly pirates. If people really want to scare each other they should dress up as ‘intimacy’, ‘loneliness’, ’climate change’ or ‘nuclear tension’. The period is topped off by a spooky pun on Twitter, or perhaps an immersive Hollywood film screening and a night in a speakeasy drinking pumpkin cocktails and smoking potions out of test tubes. Then it’s over for another year. To be repeated next year on an even gaudier scale.
With the recent BBC Gunpowder series, I was reminded how this time of year used to be more focused on the 400-year-old festival of Guy Fawkes Night. Celebrated like our very own 4th of July, it usually consisted of fireworks and crunching dental-busting toffee apples around a smokey bonfire while watching a human-shaped bundle of clothes burn for reasons you didn’t understand. You’d typically gather for an evening of ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at a local fireworks display or cram into a neighbor’s garden to risk your life at the mercy of a cheap Catherine Wheel spinning out of control, as anti-climatic fizzes spluttered into the sky.
As much as I’d like to blame the influx of Halloween solely on American cultural imperialism, this wouldn’t be fair. We as a nation have changed as much as the holidays we celebrate. In multicultural Britain, Guy Fawkes just isn’t OK anymore; it’s burning a once-persecuted minority on a bonfire. Halloween labors under no such political baggage. There might be a way for Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day to find a way to coexist. In recent years there have been efforts to dampen the anti-Catholic undertones while keeping the fires burning on November 5. It’s important that we try and retain some distinctive ownership over this period at a time when America is the last place we should be turning towards for cultural inspiration.
Some might consider the idea of dismissing Halloween as an American intrusion into British culture as ironic considering that its roots are found in Scotland and Ireland. But to that, I say go f*ck yourself nobody was walking around dressed up as a banana in 12th-century Scotland saying ‘trick or treat’.