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.

  • Nick

    Not true. Halloween is a chance for our future criminals to put in valuable practice. The chavvy kids from the estate come knocking in big groups and intimidate us for money (note: sweets are not generally accepted as valid currency these days). It’s exactly the same for Guy Fawkes. A crappy plastic bag stuffed with newspaper in a pram, wheeled along by a rat boy.
    “Penny for the guy”.
    No. It’s not a guy. It’s a bag. Put some effort in and I’ll think about it.

  • We’re Spookier than The Old Country

    Halloween is a big deal here but not in England or Europe. Morgan McClintic on PR explains why: It always catches me by surprise. Halloween is right up there with Thanksgiving and Christmas when it comes to celebrations and parties….

  • Hehe – I love fireworks. We have them all through from May to September in more or less any town around and about. But then the Spanish don’t need an excuse for fiesta. We don’t even have to run up. They get these things that are so huge, they light up an entire town.

  • That sounds fun. In the UK, you’ve gotta have mulled wine as well to keep you warm while peering through the fog, stamping your feet and crying ‘aah’ with the rest of the crowd. Guy Fawkes’ is on a Saturday this year which is a bonus.
    But I can’t complain since July 4 here in SF was crystal clear and I had a great view over the Bay from the roofdeck on my apartment. I could see three competing displays. Apparently it’s pretty rare to actually be able to see the fireworks here on Independence Day. Last year I couldn’t even see across the street, so the displays were just vague green flashes in the fog.

  • First time I heard bout the Guy Fawkes tradition I was stunned. You want kids to burn a man?? Granted it wasn’t real. But still. I’ve gotten over the shock since. Really it is quite mild to some of the things I would like to do to some people. 😉

  • Hi Angie – Yes, when you put it down in black and white text it’s pretty barbaric. Beneath that calm English reserve, we can be a slightly sinsiter lot sometimes.
    When I was a kid though, I just liked making the guy and knocking on doors. Never made much money out of it though…