Susan’s off on her travels again this week, but here’s a seasonal Retroprogressive from the archives…
In view of current concerns over the preservation of our nation’s official faith, it seems odd that more is not made of Guy Fawkes Night, as an affirmation of our collective identity. Even in multi-faith, or faithless Britain, the occasion seems as good an excuse as any to enjoy pyrotechnics, conversation and refreshment with friends and neighbours (at a time of year when we’d probably rather be at home in the warm).
Although the celebration of Halloween, as we’ve come to know it, is a US import, the associated paraphernalia comes mainly from China. Halloween has become a bonanza for the high street, for specialist fancy dress retailers and for clubs, bars and restaurants. Go to any supermarket and you’ll see shelves stacked with stickers, food, party packs, clothing and accessories. Meantime, fireworks are kept far away from children’s grubby mitts, locked up in the glass cabinets of quietly decaying corner shops.
Any fule kno that playing with fireworks is potentially more hazardous than cadging sweets from neighbours. However, Halloween is fraught with its own dangers, like accepting gifts from strangers. Fireworks displays have become occasions for the health and safety brigade to go bonkers. Rarely these days will you see a real fire: local authorities have even been known to show film footage of a bonfire to simulate the authentic crackle and glow. Meanwhile, middle class parents play their part in the commercial conspiracy that is Halloween, by chaperoning kids around local streets in search of goodies, which are collected in large carrier bags. Some parents then filter out all the ‘junk’ items (almost certainly 100% of the contents) and restrict their children to what is deemed to be healthy.
You’d think Jamie Oliver would be on the case, promoting Guy Fawkes food – which is dominated by the Great British banger. Sausages with mash, or baked potatoes, are popular fare, often with beans. Otherwise, a hearty winter warming soup or stew. But children (and those who advertise to them) prefer stickier treats. It’s a shame the beta-carotene rich pumpkin is just for show. Halloween offers only toffee apples… and marshmallows, along with every other type of ‘candy’ (think acid drops, toxic waste and gum powder).
Long gone are the days when children trawled the streets, with a homemade Guy in a craftily cobbled together trailer, asking for a ‘penny’ towards fireworks… Pointy hats and noses, Dracula capes and teeth are far more popular with children – though rarely made by hand. Any opportunity to dress up is an excuse to buy a look. Bat ears, blue lips, golf balls and a curious crow suit all feature amongst the best dressed celebrity Halloween costumes on the Telegraph’s fashion blog – and an Ashish sequin skeleton dress (at £1025) has the most ‘loves’. Fancy dress parties, enjoyed by people of all ages, are big business. Even the traditional Guy Fawkes mask has been given a V for Vendetta makeover.
Halloween, which has its origins in Celtic tradition (and the commemoration of the eve before All Hallows, or All Saints Day), is also a chance to celebrate all things horrid and evil. The practice of trick or treating can lead to pranks as dangerous as posting fireworks through letterboxes. I’ve heard of garden hedges being set alight, apples being thrown through windows, and have inadvertently been the victim of Halloween pranksters myself. Having spent the best part of the prior evening painstakingly carving out the guts of a pumpkin, I lit the candle inside and put it on display outside the door, as I popped out to buy sweets for the trick and treaters. On my return, I was mortified to find that my pumpkin had been kicked into a lightwell, and smashed to smithereens…