It's the day before Halloween and we're wondering what will happen tomorrow, exactly. You see, October 31st in the U.K seems to be a totally different beast from October 31st in the U.S. And why shouldn't it be? They're different countries, after all. But the lead-up to Halloween in England has a menacing undertone: It's expected that the hooliganism that percolates just below the surface here will boil over.
Take the front page of today's Oxford Mail:
There's nothing sadder than an old lady cowering behind her door. The story says that police are gearing up for vandalism and are especially concerned about the elderly. The police have a "No Halloween Here" poster they make available for citizens who don't want their houses approached. Stores are urged not to sell eggs and flour to anyone under 18, lest they be employed in nasty hijinks.
All of this can be bewildering for Americans such as myself and Sarah Churchwell. She's a senior lecturer in American culture and literature at the University of East Anglia and author of an essay in yesterday's Guardian about Britain's bastardized Halloween. I'll forgive her gratuitous slap at my hometown ("Halloween is not scary, unless they reside in the inner city of Washington, in which case every night is scary") for I think she's on to something:
"There is a great deal of resentment toward 'American cultural imports', the myriad ways in which we are contaminating your demi-paradise with our corrupt practices. I hate to break it to you, but in the case of Halloween, you are the ones bastardising our culture. If your version is a violent, threatening and ugly spree across the month of October, don't blame America, blame yourselves."As always, the comments after her essay online are the most entertaining. There's the America-bashing that is to be expected at the Guardian's Comment Is Free section, but the comments also provide a cultural/anthropological recap of various All Hallow's Eve practices across the British isles, from carving lanterns out of root vegetables to reciting poetry.
There's another article in the Guardian, by Sue Blackmore, extolling Halloween's virtues:
"Halloween is a time to get scared; to conjure up the most frightening ideas you can, of ghosties and ghoulies, and things that jump out in the dark; of spiders and skeletons and creatures that lurk under the bed. Or you can go out on a dark October night and dare to go up to some stranger's front door, looking more cool than your friends, and being the first to ring the door bell - or whatever level of scariness suits your age."It's not only the English who are struggling to figure out what Halloween should be. In the States it's no longer a holiday just for children. Adults horn in on the action and their horny mindset (throw away your inhibitions on Oct. 31) have crept into the kids' holiday. There's a story on the front page of The Washington Post today about the pornified costumes that are being pitched to children this year, outfits such as micro mini skirts, belly-exposing shirts and fishnet tights.
I agree that Halloween has probably gotten too commercialized (last time I checked, everything had gotten too commercialized), but I think it might be particularly ill-suited to the thug culture that enthralls many (not all, not most) young Britons.
So, what will happen tomorrow? I don't know, but we won't be putting up a "No trick or treat sign" and our jack o'lanterns will be out and lit. I'll let you know if they survive the night.