(How’s that for a grouchy title?)
There are few cultural differences between America and Britain as great as Hallowe’en. When Americans think of it, they think of small costumed children waddling door-to-door with their fondly smiling parents, collecting sweets as they go. When the British think of Hallowe’en, they think of glum teenagers, demanding money for cigarettes and porn mags, in return for which they will not vandalise your car or disembowel your cat.
Not that trick-or-treating has always been so accepted in America. When the practice first began in the 1930s, upstanding citizens were appalled. Furious letters were written to newspapers. The Madison Square Boys Club even marched through New York with a banner that read “American Boys Don’t Beg”.
But then came a 1952 Walt Disney cartoon entitled Trick or Treat and a Hallowe’en-themed Unicef campaign — and lo, one of the world’s most bizarre cultural phenomena was born. These days, there is perhaps no greater act of misanthropy in middle-class America than failing to prepare a large bowl of sweets in preparation for the inevitable trick-or-treaters. Here in the company town of Hollywood, the risk of appearing mean-spirited to one’s neighbours (and therefore colleagues) is even greater. Who wants to stand on their doorstep and explain to Angelina Jolie why her small band of pumpkin-toting ex-Aids-orphans don’t deserve a mini-bar of Snickers?
Kids don’t trick or treat here in Seattle. They put on their costumes and their parents take them to the shops at the mall or the, err, “high street”. I saw some of them on Saturday when I got home and Peter and I went for a little walk to get stamps. It makes me want to puke. “Hey parents, too afraid to let your little wookums outside at night to have an experience shared by millions of other American children because you won’t vote for people to get tough on crime making your guilt-ridden conscience susceptible to every false rumour about people putting razor blades and cyanide into Hallowe’en candy? Why don’t you take them here during the broad daylight so we don’t have to stay open too late so we get the kind of bodies-in-store advertising evil capitalists could only dream of and only have to put out for the price of a jumbo bag of candy as we ruin this great adventuresome American tradition!”
Seriously, they should put that on the flyers.
But then the other week one of grandma’s care-takers was telling me about all the Halloween decorations they had up, and how all the neighborhood kids love my grandparents’ house and the neighborhood is just crawling with them, which was proved when, the night before I left, grandpa was sitting on the couch watching the news when he asked “When’s Hallowe’en?” and I said “Wednesday” and he said wryly “I gotta find a place to hide.”
Anyway, it gave me hope for future generations.