Friday, November 17, 2006
Like a plague of zombies spontaneously replicating themselves Halloween has experienced an exponential growth. Its irresistible rise is evident from expenditure; increasing in five years from £12million to £120 million, it lies third in the money league behind Christmas and Easter. Although in France money spent on Halloween has been falling since 2002 – what do you expect from a “cheese-eating surrender-monkey” type of a country? Our school held a disco as an alternative to Halloween, but such is its attraction that only a fifth of the children attended.
Halloween has become an excuse for children to demand gifts with menace, the so-called ‘trick or treat’ is roughly translated as ‘we’ll pelt your house with eggs and flour if you don’t give us some sweets’. Even the Mafia are a bit subtler. For the old, the vulnerable, those living on their own, opening the door to a gang of children wearing ‘Scream’ masks isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. In America Halloween is often an excuse for a full-scale riot.
The church has finally come out against Halloween, but they seem powerless to stop it, their social standing and presence in many communities is negligible. A hundred years ago half of children attended Sunday Schools, the current figure is roughly 4%. The churches haven’t exactly done a brilliant job promoting their own festivals, most children associate Easter with chocolate and fluffy yellow chicks rather than the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Before I’m mistaken for a columnist from the ‘Daily Hell’ let’s get it in proportion. Most young children visit the streets around their own house with an adult in tow. Children love the freedom of dressing up and wearing a mask. Why should adults ban all their fun and try to outlaw any attempt at independence or insubordination? Even the Spartans gave the Helots one day of freedom a year.
But you can’t just view Halloween in isolation, there are those other commercially driven events that might convince you that we are a nation of obese, binge drinking, shopaholics. Our nation’s football team is surrounded by an orgy of nationalistic, bellicose, flag waving - mercifully constricted by their woeful performances on the pitch.
What alternatives do we provide for young people? Labour’s mantra was ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’. To me it seems to be all stick and no carrot. Youth work is under-paid, under-resourced and therefore under-used. I read about one teacher who got a job in a small town where, ‘nothing ever happened’. He started a small music festival that grew into an internationally acclaimed event. It was his life’s work, his legacy, when he died his funeral was attended by hundreds of people and some of his former pupils travelled long distances to be there.
In Germany they celebrate the feast of St Martin that commemorates an ancient act of altruism when a Christian Roman general gave his cloak to a beggar. The school I was visiting held a march through the streets with hundreds coming out to applaud the children, it was a wonderful collective experience. But even that traditional festival was under pressure from the commercially driven competition of Halloween.
Surely we can offer our children something better? Halloween? It sucks!