Now it’s your costume that will really leave you spooked
WELL, it’s that time of the year again, when we celebrate the annual erosion of the layer between the living and the dead by dressing up, staying out late and getting into mischief.
In fact, in its modern iteration, you could say that Halloween is the one holiday when all the family partakes with the same enthusiasm.
The kids get to play dress-up as their favourite monster or Disney character and wander around the streets in disguise – while their parents and older siblings do exactly the same, except rather than looking for nuts and sweets from the neighbours, they wander from pub to pub, availing of whatever Halloween special offers might be on offer.
Halloween has always been a big deal for the Irish, which makes sense, seeing as how it originated here as ‘Samhain’, half harvest festival, half day of the dead.
In recent times, the Americans have commodified and commercialised the traditional winter break into a billion-dollar industry that now seems to feed off its own controversy.
But for anyone who grew up in Ireland, October 31 will always have a special place in our hearts.
It was a far more rigid society back in the day, and anything even vaguely transgressive was frowned upon, so the idea of being allowed to run loose was an enticing one.
In fact, Halloween marks the various stages of growing up for many of us.
As an only child, I must admit that Halloween parlour games were rather less than scintillating in the O’Doherty household.
For starters, bobbing for apples on your own isn’t much fun. Similarly, eating colcannon, that seasonal combination of kale, mashed potatoes and butter (always lots of butter) which featured coins wrapped in tin foil lacked a certain surprise factor when you knew all the coins had been mixed into your portion. If anything, the excitement was seeing how many teeth you could chip on 10 pence coins.
In my own case I can still remember when the local Superquinn in Walkinstown started selling full Halloween costumes rather than just those plastic masks which lasted just long enough to cut your face before the elastic band at the back snapped.
Numerous parents were outraged – where was the effort if a kid could just go in and buy their costume?
Instead, most of us made do with a bin liner or a white bed sheet, one of those ridiculously sharp and short-lived masks and a plastic bag to collect all the treats you’d pick up from your neighbours.
But as one got a bit older, the excitement tended to ratchet up a few notches, particularly at the local bonfire, where younger kids clung onto their parents’ hands and the older ones waited until everyone else had left before throwing aerosol cans into the flames while hurling bangers bought in Moore Street at each other. Ah, the innocence of youth! There was no such thing as trick or treat back then – and rightly so.
No, the only phrase we recognised was ‘help the Halloween party’ and, to this day, the kids who come knocking at my door and say “help the Halloween party” rather than the Americanised “trick or treat” tend to get more goodies.
The old argument over the difference between these two catchphrases sums up, in many ways, how the occasion has changed and evolved over the last few years.
In much the same way that Irish Americans aren’t really Irish, they merely claim the ancestry, Halloween is no longer the ancient Irish tradition of letting your hair down, laughing at death and scoffing the fruit harvest. No, Hollywood has colonised the day, and while it has given us plenty of classic horrors, the Irish element was seldom acknowledged except, perhaps, for the terribly underrated ‘Halloween III: Season of The Witch’.
That kitsch slasher classic saw Dan O’Herlihy as an ancient Irish druid running a toy company called ‘Silver Shamrock’ who wanted to make a massive sacrifice of American children. Even then, however, he derived his power from Stonehenge, which shows that while most Americans have a vague notion Halloween originated on one of the ‘old countries’, they don’t really care about the exact details.
It’s interesting to note that a festival that was once based around confronting our collective fears of both death and the undead has now become the most fretful and anxiety-ridden social occasion of the year, but not for its original and far more interesting reasons.
Nowadays – and we can once more thank our American cousins for this development – the very act of wearing the wrong Halloween costume can make you a bigot, in the eyes of idiots.
The big debate in America this year is ‘cultural appropriation’ and one bafflingly influential blog, ‘Raising Race Conscious Children’ (which would probably be more accurately titled ‘Raising Self Conscious Children’), has warned parents about which costumes are ‘suitable’ or not.
In the wonderfully skewed logic often displayed by guilt-ridden white liberals, the author insists that allowing your white daughter dress up as the Polynesian Disney character Moana is an offence against the new rules because: “Moana is based on real history and a real group of people. If we are going to dress up as a real person, we have to make sure we are doing it in a way that is respectful. Otherwise it’s like we are making fun of someone else’s culture.”
So if you daughter wants to dress as Moana tonight, then she is a racist and so are you.
But what if your white daughter wants to dress as Elsa from ‘Frozen’, that must be OK, right? Wrong.
Because apparently: “Elsa is a white princess, and we see so many white princesses, her character sends the message that you have to be a certain way to be beautiful.”
So damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
If these people are so obsessed with cultural appropriation, why do they feel comfortable appropriating an Irish festival?
There are no rules on Halloween, except one – remember to keep your dogs indoors, they really hate tonight.
Anyway – once we get through this evening, there are only 54 shopping days left to Christmas...
While most Americans have a vague notion Halloween originated on one of the ‘old countries’, they don’t really care about the exact details