Halloween is a big deal here in the US. People decorate their houses with fake spiders’ webs, plastic pumpkins and put illuminated skeletons in their window. It always catches me by surprise. Halloween is right up there with Thanksgiving and Christmas when it comes to celebrations and parties. Almost everyone dresses up on the Saturday night. People even dress up to come to work. I don’t mean kids going to school dressed as Dracula, I mean adults going to work in full costume. And not even scary costumes but as Big Bird and The Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.
That’s not the case in the UK. Halloween is a non-event. Some enterprising local kids will arm themselves with toilet roll, buy some plastic masks and call themselves Trick or Treaters (the trick being to put toilet paper over your lawn if you don’t cough up the candy), but it really passes without notice.
In France, November 1, All Saints’ Day is a bigger deal. They have the whole day off to honor their ancestors. Same in Germany. And Spain. And Singapore. And Mexico. And many other places around the world. In an age of globalization, it’s easy to forget how sharp the cultural differences are.
For instance, the other day I was trying to explain why on November 5, in the UK we set off fireworks to celebrate Guy Fawkes’ foiled plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It’s a bit like our version of July 4 (in the UK we don’t celebrate that). Part of the tradition of Bonfire Night (as November 5 is often called), is for kids to make a ‘Guy’, which is basically a scarecrow-like model of Guy Fawkes. You then carry him round in a wheelbarrow and collect money from your neighbors, a bit like trick or treating. But then, we put him on the bonfire and burn him.
Normally at this point my American friends stare wide-eyed in horror at this tradition. Makes putting spiders’ web on your house seem a little cutsie. Why not go the whole hog and burn effigies of traitors? But as a kid, I quite liked it. It’s normal. Just like bumping into Big Bird at the water-cooler.
So Happy Halloween. Or All Saints’ Day. Or Guy Fawkes’ Night. It’s good to celebrate our differences.