Halloween in Britain
Fact: Halloween originated in Ireland. I learned this in my quantum field theory class from Evan, my Irish friend and Trinity basketball teammate. He explained the that Hallows’ Eve was the last night that one could harvest crops. Unharvested crops would then be claimed by the puca, which (according to Wikipedia) are mischevious spirits.
I spent the morning sitting through lectures in my teddy bear costume (now officially my ‘Lord Byron’s Bear’ costume). Unfortunately I decided to slip back into shorts and a t-shirt when I got back so that I could huddle up under my duvet todo some reading, and never got around to putting the costume back on. This is just as well since British Halloween costumes tend to be on the rather scary/gruesome side.
Here is a photograph from SoHo in London of some ghoulish costumes this past weekend. You can’t really see it, but most of the people in the background have painted white faces and lots of blood splattered about. The police person is actually a genuine police person. The tourist who stepped into my photograph is a genuine tourist.
Admittedly, they weren’t the scariest thing I saw in London. It was the following ad for Chicago: The Musical starring none other than (see bottom of photo) Ashlee Simpson of the famed SNL lip sync fiasco.
And so I’ve found that Halloween takes on quite a different flavor. I think It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown would be a very appropriate film to inform my international friends about my concept of an American Halloween.
- Fact: As the child of first generation immigrants, my first Halloween costume was a paper bag.
- Fact: It’s a good thing for my own personal development that I was too young to remember that.
- Fact: My Halloween costumes in primary school included a ninja and a ninja turtle. I also have several pictures from my early youth dressed up as Peter Pan, but this seemed not to be limited to Halloween.
The point of this personal commentary is that my concept of Halloween is a little more family oriented than the rated-R themed festivities here. (Though I may just be at the wrong venues.) Based on my conversations with other students, the rest of the world doesn’t quite understand American ‘trick or treat’-ing… though supermarkets seem to be quite keen on the idea as a way to sell ‘lollies.’ Ideas such as TP‘ing (toilet papering) houses are still eons away from being taken up by the old world. Perhaps it’s better that way.
Perhaps to encourage cultural exchange about this holiday… or perhaps just to have a good time and listen to the Ghostbusters theme song, John, another American Part III student heading to UCB, hosted a pumpkin carving party in the BA room this evening. Along with the pumpkins were hot apple cider, candy, and semi-cheesy Halloween music … it really made me feel at home. It was fun hearing the Americans espousing their conflicting theories on how to properly carve a pumpkin; purists advocating free design rather than stencils, practicalists suggesting ways to imprint patterns onto the pumpkin, and veterans explaining how to gut pumpkin innards. Quite a few Britons and international students were impressed when the first batch of roasted pumpkin seeds was passed around. The highlight of the evening came when I overheard one guest say
Americans sure know what to do with a pumpkin.
That we do! And they didn’t even get to taste pumpkin pie.
Anyway, I could tell it was going to be a fun evening when St. John’s (our neighbor and rival college) put on an excellent fireworks display right after dinner. The fireworks were launched just next to Burrell’s Field where I live, so it was especially nice to be right under the fireworks and to feel the shockwave of the big explosions. (A morbid fact: the sounds of the display were reminiscient of television clips of Baghdad.) No, the British don’t celebrate Halloween with fireworks… though that would be a novel idea to adopt in the US where magnesium-lit skies could provide a nice background for trick or treaters. More likely, the display was a preview of this Saturday’s (or is it Sunday?) Guy Fawkes Day celebration where fireworks commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. Apparently standard events include roasting marshmallows over burning effigies of Guy Fawkes (the real Guy Fawkes met a similar fate). I told you British holidays around this time are a bit morbid. Though to be honest the Guy Fawkes celebration in Cambridge includes a Family Fun Faire… so I imagine the sentiment is similar to 4th of July.
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