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Help! The Halloween Party!


Help! The Halloween Party!

Every weekday morning, I walk my two young daughters to school along with my friend’s little boy. Last Friday, the last before the mid-term break also happened to be the day of the school Halloween party. Every child and teacher would be in full costume for the day. My friend arrived with her little boy, as normal, but she was mortified when she realised that her son should be dressed up for the Halloween celebrations. She saw my two girls; the youngest was going to be an evil queen for the day while my other daughter was dressed a dead DJ, complete with ghostly purple headphones and a 12-inch disc protruding from the side of her head. I reassured my friend that before she had to leave for work, I would sort something out for her little boy in the costume department – then I did what every down to Earth dad would do in this situation: I got my seven-year-old daughter to draw a big, mad spider on the side of his face with a felt tip pen.

The school is only a five-minute stroll from my place. When we got there, the yard was full of leaping, dancing, happy children in all manner of Halloween costumes; everything from the classic vampire or wicked witch to some really cool and intricate creations like as a chocolate vending machine or a half child -half storm cloud complete with glowing lightning bolts. And despite the great selection of costumes on show, all eyes seemed to be on this poor little kid dressed up as an ordinary schoolboy – with a big, mad spider on the side of his face. And then I said to myself: How did it ever come to this?

When we were kids in the seventies and eighties, we didn’t have this kind pressure to dress up. There were no parties in school, only warnings from the teachers not to stand too close to the massive, unsupervised bonfires we had back in those days. For us, the typical Halloween costume consisted of a black plastic bag and one of these really nasty masks that had this weird chemical smell and had this evil elastic band that always seemed to be pinching your skin. We went from door to door looking for monkey nuts and if we were lucky, the odd chocolate or toffee – these were the days before the fun-size chocolate bar. To earn these treats, we didn’t say, “trick or treat!” Back then, our refrain was, “Help the Halloween party!”

Halloween today is a commercial (pardon the pun) monster. From the middle of September, massive display stands, festooned with cardboard pumpkins and skeletons, spring up in all of the major retail chains. It’s very easy to blame American culture for what Halloween has become today. We gave them our ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain, aptly represented by the Jack O’ Lantern, where the membrane between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes insubstantial enough to let spirits of the dead travel back and forth, and the Americans gave us this massive bloated festival that’s encapsulated perfectly by the pumpkin; a big orange, unwieldy and messy fruit that leaves an awful taste in the mouth.

Aside from the pumpkin, the commercialisation, the social pressure for children to dress up and the truly horrifying sight of overweight grown men wearing Little Red Riding Hood costumes, I’m generally in favour of Halloween and the way it’s celebrated today. I like the fact that people are coming together more and organising safe ways to celebrate the occasion while the younger ones get to explore their creativity with costumes and face painting. We could put a bit more effort into keeping the older traditions alive, such as the ring in the barnbrack and bobbing for apples – these are the nice things I remember about Halloween from my childhood.

As for our poor little schoolboy who came to school dressed as a schoolboy, I was a bit worried at first, but children are a lot more resilient than we think. I was actually more concerned about whether his mother was able to remove the drawing of the big, mad spider from the side of his face.

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