It’s arrived. It’s here. Another American cultural marker has wriggled its way onto the British calendar, and a lot of Brits are scratching their heads – not really sure how pumpkin patches, treat-or-treating, and obligatory fancy dress on October 31 became a thing.
I remember when I first moved here back in 2008 – and even during my short study abroad stint in 2006 – Halloween was definitely not a day worth noting, with only a few uni students or adults throwing slightly inappropriate fancy dress parties as an excuse to drink, not unlike other British fancy dress parties, except more ghouls, ghosts, zombies, and fake blood. Definitely not kid friendly.
As an adult, Halloween wasn’t something I greatly looked forward to or celebrated. I wasn’t comfortable with the expectation that women had to be outrageously ‘sexy’ and I actually protested against that norm by dressing as a California raisin my freshmen year of college (a photo does exist somewhere). Other years I dressed as Amelia Earhart and Cleopatra. And not the sexy versions.
As a kid, however, Halloween was a highlight of the autumn and something all kids looked forward to with almost as much enthusiasm as Christmas. There were Halloween parades, parties, pumpkin carving, and costume day at school, all leading up to a night of trick-or-treating around your local neighbourhood, where (nearly) every house participated with spooky jack-o-lanterns, fake cobwebs, and skeletons creeping out of the ground. Where I lived, a lot of houses put on great theatrics, with adults dressed as witches or Frankenstein popping out of the bushes as you rang the door bell. There was always the house where you got a packet of raisins or pretzels (gross) and those houses that gave out entire Snickers bars (score). Halloween eve was often cool with clear skies, the stars spotting the sky as laughter and screams echoed around the streets. As bedtime approached, we all went home, voices hoarse from screeching ‘Trick-or-Treat!’, spilling out our buckets of candy to see our spoils, while every parent ‘took out a few pieces to test for poison.’ Right….
I have nothing but fond memories of Halloween as a kid, along with trips to the pumpkin patch, fall festivals at school, hay rides in a tractor, corn mazes, hot apple cider, and college football games (the Naval Academy was our local team). All these things were part of what made my American childhood so wonderful. And its what brings me joy to see a little slice of that embedding itself in British society. There’s a lot my son won’t get to experience about America because he won’t grow up there, but it’s important to me that he still grows up feeling American. So, while a lot of people might be a bit flummoxed about this strange holiday that’s brought in isles of orange and black at the supermarket, pumpkin picking, and random children ringing your doorbell in the night asking for candy, I’m totally giddy.