|Halloween And Guy Fawkes Night
||[Oct. 31st, 2011|09:55 am]
Last night we received our first trick or treaters in three years. There was a pair of them. I filled their outstretched paws with choccy delights and then one of them asked if he could have more. Greedy little oik!|
One of my American friends was surprised to hear that British kids trick or treat on the nights leading up to Halloween. I think this stretching of the feast is to do with the conflation of Halloween and Bonfire Night. In the olden days- which aren't actually so long ago- when Bonfire Night still mattered, kids used to trek round the streets in the weeks before November 5, carting an effigy of poor old Guy Fawkes, demanding "A Penny for the Guy". Now they trick or treat instead, but because it was valid to treat Bonfire Night as a season they do the same with Halloween.
Meanwhile, Guy Fawkes has mutated- thanks to V for Vendetta- from a scruffy old Jacobean with straw coming our of his sleeves into an ultra-cool symbol of protest and resistance. Look at photos of the Occupy London crowd and you're likely to spot several people wearing the mask from the movie- with the pointy beard and the sinister-cum-jocular grin.
It's almost strange to see the transformation of Guy Fawkes. His memory was kept alive out of nationalistic spite. Now, his image symbolizes the struggle against oppression, perhaps not quite the opposite intent of his executioners, but close.
I understand that Alan Moore did not necessarily intend V to be a hero and strongly disapproved of the movie that portrayed him as such. Despite my respect for the man and his work, I smile every time I see a protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Also, since Moore was inspired by, and extrapolating from, Thatcher's England, and since the Occupy movement is protesting against the world that Thatcher and her fellow travelers created, it feels like we've come round full circle.
It's fascinating to watch cultural traditions shift and change.
I used to be angry at the way the American Halloween was supplanting our native Bonfire Night, but there's no point in fighting these things.
From what I know of it, Bonfire Night seemed fun and it is a shame that it's faded. Trick-or-treating is fading here, though it was a huge deal, when I was a child. My parents would start doling out candy to the littlest ones at dusk and to the last stragglers among the older kids as late as 9:00 pm or so, with a fairly heavy stream in between. There was lots of decorating back then, some of it elaborate. Everyone had a jack-o-lantern.
It's declined heavily in our neighborhood just in the eighteen years since I moved in.
People still have Bonfire parties, but they're not what they were. Oldham used to lay on a huge municipal bonfire, plus firework display. If they tried that now they'd get slammed for wasting public money.
The data is in: we had about a dozen kids come by, last night, the least we've ever had.
I have heard various explanations. Among other things, emphasis has shifted to parties for the young on Halloween, often sponsored or encouraged by the police. It's a more-or-less sensible alternative and I must say you don't see nearly so much vandalism today as you did when I was a kid. Our local merchants had trick-or-treating downtown on Monday afternoon, too, so that steals a bit of the thunder, I'm sure.
Personally, I blame the decline of Halloween on the breakdown of communal society or the narcissistic tendencies encouraged by our modern technology.
This year could have been just a statistical fluctuation, too. I heard from a fellow in West Virginia, in a town a couple of hours from here, that said he had at least twice as many kids this year as last year, despite a cold drizzle coming down.
I always let off a few fireworks for the children, but wouldn't be able to get away with a bonfire in the middle of Bristol (there are big ones - and fireworks - all around the city, but not in the centre any more, it seems).
I haven't seen a Penny for the Guy for a couple of decades - though I loved making them when I was young. But what use is a guy you can't burn?
2011-11-03 04:41 am (UTC)
Changing cultural traditions
I saw on a blog that American Hallowe'en is beginning to be observed in South Africa too. We used to do Guy Fawks, but prohibitions on the sale of fireworks put an end to that.