Tuesday, October 24, 2006


It’s that time of year when all those who thought in the Spring, “Gosh, let’s grow some pumpkins this year,” are beginning to regret it. There are only so many friends and neighbours you can fob off with one of these monstrous vegetables, vegetables that could show rabbits a thing or two about productivity (technically, I would hasten to add, pumpkins are a vine - some grape!)

The only connection I can see between these superannuated squash and with the pagan festival of Halloween is that the things are going to haunt you until they finally dissolve into rotting heaps of mush. And how much pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup can the human frame absorb before assuming a pleasantly orange glow?

Desperate for a solution, the Confederation of Pumpkin Producers came up with the concept of scooping out the middle, cutting some slots to resemble a face and putting a candle inside. Then the idea was marketed to kids in the United States who, as kids will, then spread the lunatic idea amongst their fellows elsewhere in the world. At the same time, egged on by the Association of Faintly Repellent Carnival Mask Producers, Halloween was foisted on an unsuspecting world.

Well, it was unsuspected by some of us, especially myself.

As far as I was concerned, Halloween had marked the end of the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon year and I was perfectly content to let it remain that way. It was not until I was in London some years ago that I even realised that anyone, other than ancient Celts and the odd Anglo-Saxon who might be about, even remembered it. We were in town working on a TV production and one of the principals was a charming American girl. She had a flat in Ebury Street and had invited the crew back for a few drinks. She then proceeded to enlighten us to the fact that it was Halloween night. I don’t think many of us were impressed, so she proceeded to tell us ghost stories, a tough assignment to a bunch of hard-bitten writers and producers. Ho-hum, I guess we said, pass the bottle, will you?

I dismissed Halloween from my mind until I arrived in the United States, when I found that it was not only celebrated by the kids, but that many of the inhabitants of Detroit also joined in the fun by burning down a few houses on the night before, no doubt in the spirit of urban renewal.

British children, I recall, used to go door to door with an effigy of Guy Fawkes (a much maligned gentleman in my opinion – just think how much support he would get today), asking for a penny for the guy, but the Halloween bunch have brought hard-core marketing and strong arm tactics into the business. These embryo Al Capones demand money with menaces. Trick or treat? Razor wire and an electric fence would be my answer.

Not that the kids are solely to blame. Consumer marketers are the root cause of all this nonsense. In the US, Thanksgiving is promoted as a great time to spend and no sooner have they flogged all their Halloween junk on October 31st. than they’re at it again. Christmas starts around that time as far as they’re concerned and I suppose it might as well, since no-one has any idea if they’ve got the date right. Even the Three Wise Men.

So if you get a bunch of kids on your doorstep on the night of October the 31st., invite them in for a treat. Sit them down, dish out some candy, and proceed to give them a lecture on ancient Celtic customs and the influence of Anglo-Saxon culture upon modern day living. Keep it up for an hour or so and follow it with a question session to ensure that they were paying attention.

You probably won’t be bothered next year. Word gets around in the kid world. And you could always give them a pumpkin to take home.


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