Posts Tagged ‘British traditions’

Many years ago, while on holidayPhoto0006 in the south of France, we discovered a delicious rosé wine: dry and crisp, and served very chilled, it was the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of lunchtime moules marinière. We bought six bottles, stowed them in the back of the car and wended our way back to Blighty, by which time the rosé had turned to vinegar and was undrinkable.  We learned a salient lesson on that trip – that some things just don’t travel well – a bit like, dare I say it : trick or treating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Over the years I’ve ripped my fingers to shreds whittling a spooky face into an over-sized pumpkin with the best of them; I’ve even been known to make fairy cakes, cover them in luminous orange icing and pipe black spiders on top which, for someone who loathes baking, shows a certain amount of maternal resolve, I feel. When Son was small, he and his friends would make their own scary masks and paper hanging bats and get together for Halloween teas. Trick or treating for them was confined to a few pre-primed neighbours. I wasn’t going to let him miss out just because I don’t ‘get’ it.

 Trick or treating, in its current guise, is a relatively new concept here in the UK. When I was a child it didn’t exist, neither did any of the paraphernalia that goes with it. I don’t remember even seeing a pumpkin – the nearest thing we had was a swede or a turnip which, I believe, were used by the ancient Celts to fashion tiny lanterns to light the ancestral way on All Hallows Eve. We were brought up to wait until offered a sweet; never to ask for one and not to speak to anyone we didn’t know; so even now, the idea of allowing children to knock on the doors of strangers and demand confectionary makes me uncomfortable.

 The local TV news yesterday morning reported that measures had been taken to ban the sale of flour and eggs to anyone under the age of eighteen and that police cars would be patrolling the area advising marauding gangs of hooded youth how to trick or treat responsibly.

So, bearing this in mind, I armed myself with a bag of cheap sweets to ward off any evil little spirits who banged on my door last night hoping it would prevent an omelette adhering to my windscreen. When all this malarkey first started, I was never sure whether it was me that should deliver the trick or the treat and I have been known to squirt expectant visitors with a water pistol. It’s all very well having fun, but the line between fun tipping over into vandalism and intimidation is a fine one: some elderly folk are truly frightened.


A sample of merchandise available in a local store

 I’m not bothered about our shops and garden centres being stuffed full of hideous Halloween miscellanea made in the Far East. The amount and variety spreads each year, like fast growing bacteria. Even our top end supermarket (the one that prefers to be called a food store and was the last major chain to capitulate to Sunday trading), has been seduced by the Halloween potential: and why not – it’s a huge, money making business leaking nicely into the run up to Christmas. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart.

We can’t claim trick or treating as a tradition, either. To be sure, I checked the definition in my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, which confirms:

 Tradition; [Mass noun] the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

Traditions, therefore, have to evolve – we can’t just steal a tradition from another country, from another culture and expect it to work or be accepted by all here.  On the whole, Britain is pretty hot on tradition: we are steeped in it. In a few days time we’ll be celebrating Bonfire Night, commemorating the foiling in 1605, of an early activist called Guy Fawkes, from blowing up the Houses of Parliament. (With hindsight, and beautiful iconic building aside, he might have done us all a favour had he been successful, given the current shower of ineffectual incumbents).

Several of the villages around here have been building bonfires for weeks, as they have done for years, in the way that beacons have been built and lit for centuries. Life-size models of Guy Fawkes will be prepared to sit atop each fire. The weekend skies will no doubt be full of the sights and sounds of loud, flamboyant fireworks.

I wonder if this celebration is exportable? Probably not: I can’t imagine that burning effigies of terrorists in public would go down too well anywhere else…but you never know.

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