Karen Kay: Humbug to the plastic tat and sickly sweets
PUBLISHED: 11:12 25 October 2016
There's no way Karen's going trick-or-greeding. Our usually calm columnist is happy to be a wicked witch when it comes to buying fake spiders
I love a good excuse for a get together and a few decorations. My loft is brimming with baubles, lights and garlands that bring joy every December, there’s the ritual of adorning a tree and creating a festive ambience around our home. I take great delight in creating a splendid table setting for Easter, replete with handpainted eggs.
But for Hallowe’en I become the ghoulish equivalent of Scrooge, a miserable party-pooper. I abhor plastic spiders and nylon witch costumes. Since the children returned to school, supermarket aisles have been brimming with plastic pumpkins and bumper packs of sweets, ready for the hordes of kids who now consider it normal to go trick-or-treating.
Forgive me for being the wicked witch amidst a throng of neighbours proffering baskets laden with Haribos, Celebrations and other sugary snacks, but I struggle with sending our kids off on this confectionery-grabbing mission.
The original concept is largely unknown to most youngsters knocking on strangers’ doors. One form dates back to before the Middle Ages, when Celtic villagers would disguise themselves in animal skins to drive away phantoms, and banqueting tables were laid our to placate unwelcome spirits. Later, in what became known as ‘mumming’, people would dress as demons, ghosts and witches, performing tricks and acrobatics in exchange for food and drink. Similar rituals, known as All Souling and Guising were probably antecedents to trick-or-treating. Permutations were rooted in Christianity, Paganism and other religions, with a dash of American Indian ritual thrown in for good measure. But today, children running around on 31 October clad in witchy hats, skeleton costumes and hastily-cut sheets, seem only capable of a rapacious clamour for ‘treats’, without any notion of the ‘trick’ aspect.
It’s symbolic of our time: a sad tale of childhood gluttony, using cheap Chinese-made decorations and mass-produced, throwaway costumes to support the act of greed. Hallowe’en is now largely an import of the American custom, which sees an estimated US$6billion spent every year. At least there the idea of ‘tricking’ still has some meaning, adding a sense of drama to outings, but even that has turned in to an excuse to cause damage to property in many cases.
Somehow, as Hallowe’en crossed the Atlantic, it has been bastardised into a form of begging. Mothers who spend 364 days of the year instructing offspring not to speak to strangers, wave them off to knock on doors, demanding free food. Infants turn – quite literally – into monsters over confectionery on offer from a resident unfamiliar with current childhood favourites, or – worse – a house without a basket of sugary snacks. In recent years, I’ve witnessed tiny skeletons having major tantrums and ghosts fighting with wizards, and it ain’t pretty. So, forgive me if I sit this one out, and shut the curtains while the kids run riot on a sugar high.
How about we instead encourage kindness and generosity in our children? Perhaps we could inspire the next generation to look out for neighbours, instead of preying on them. If you see me out with a small child at the end of this month, carrying a basket of cakes or biscuits, it’s likely because I’ve decided to shake things up a bit in a bid to stop nearby residents being terrorised by gannet-like infants. Anyone fancy joining me?
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