Growing up, I always felt ET was a little alien. Not because of the little alien. But because of the Halloween scene.
All the kids in the neighbourhood out on the streets. Welcoming homes offering goodies and treats. Daylight.
My own memories of Halloween Britain are scant. We just didn’t really do it. I remember seeing a carved Jack O’Lantern at school, looking as alien and lost as ET. I haven’t been in England for a long time so I don’t know if it’s changed much. But Halloween night for me meant locking the door, turning the lights down low and ignoring the doorbell.
I thought it was a holiday just for the Yanks. But it turns out that it’s pretty big in Ireland too. Bigger than I imagined – it did originate here, after all. There’s a long tradition of apple bobbing and fortune-telling barmbracks, along with the more modern frenzy of fancy dress. I forewent the usual “let’s dress up at work for Halloween” shenanigans but I was the only one. Colleagues asked if I was taking my kids out trick or treating.
“Probably not?! What’s wrong with you?!”
Turns out there was something wrong with me. Last night we did go trick or treating and it was just like ET, only cold and dark. Houses in the neighbourhood were tastefully decorated and all had welcoming neighbours with plenty of treats. And when I say plenty, I mean plenty.
One neighbour pleaded us to take more. “I’ve prepared loads but we’ve had far less kids coming than I imagined”, she said a little forlornly. I was all a bit overwhelmed by it.
Halloween is more than just picturesque trick-or-treating. Halloween night, the city burns. Literally. Teenage gangs spend the run-up to Halloween gathering pallets and tyres and in the city guerilla bonfires shoot up here and there. Fireworks are banned (yes, banned!) in Ireland but you can hear them fizzing and crackling all over. Apparently, people drive up to the North, or go to the early Sunday markets and buy them off travellers. The Fire Brigade are pretty busy too. But all in all, it led to a thrilling atmosphere in the city. Also, we now have a year supply of treats – all for the low, low price of a kids Spider-Man costume!
Of course they don’t have Guy Fawkes’ Night. That’s our opportunity for pyromanic destruction. Or, as my Irish colleague put it, “that festival when you all get together to celebrate the barbaric execution of a Catholic!”.
Disclaimer: all these are based on observations over the course of a week. I’m happy to be stood corrected.