Halloween again, and National Pumpkinfest, as it seems to have become, with ghoulish fancy dress and all the spooky stuff which started appearing in the shops more than a month ago. It’s big business now, a ‘traditional’ celebration of All Hallows Eve, originally a Pagan festival which remembers the souls of the dead, a festival later snapped up by the Christian church. Traditional? – some of it perhaps. Like Christmas, Halloween has become a hugely commercial enterprise, and it has almost eclipsed the thrill of November 5th with its bonfires and fireworks, a ‘celebration’ of the burning at stake of Guy Fawkes in 1605, because he and his mates tried to blow up Parliament. (Maybe we could do with more like him the ways things are going? Or maybe not). At least the history behind Bonfire Night, grisly death by fire, seems to have faded away while we enjoy ginger parkin and treacle toffee as we watch the fireworks. Burning a ‘Guy’, a stuffed human effigy, was obligatory when I was a child, but not so much these days perhaps. But for Halloween – grisly is part of the deal, and the grislier the better.
Back to the pumpkins. I don’t remember carving pumpkin lanterns as a child, nor does Him Outdoors. Possibly we used turnips? Possibly we didn’t. Trick or Treating happened though – gangs of kids going round knocking on doors and demanding sweets (or money) with menaces. My parents refused to answer the door, and hoped they wouldn’t find flour, or worse, chucked over the car in the morning.
But pumpkins? I blame America. A few years ago, I wrote about our short break in New England in 2004, and our trip to Salem, famous for its 1690s Witch Trials, and its over-the-top Halloween festival. [See Pumpkin Lanterns, Oct 27th 2016]. At our B & B, there was a massive spread of sweets, cookies, cakes, etc, and it seemed as if the entire neighbourhood and its children trooped in and out to collect these treats. They were all in fancy dress and very well-behaved – definitely no tricks.
Many of the houses had Halloween displays in their windows, porches, and gardens, along with posters for the Bush/Kerry presidential election – our B & B hosts had extensive George W. coverage alongside their pumpkins. I remember saying at the time that it wouldn’t be long before we got Halloween Big Time in the UK, with or without presidential elections.
And now here it is, American style Halloween. People are starting to decorate gardens and houses with pumpkinalia. Pumpkins are in every supermarket and Pick Your Own farms springing up like mushrooms. We took the grandkids to a pumpkin patch and they Picked Their Own, so many and such a varied selection that we considered taking out a bank loan to pay for them. Some friendly alpacas and pigs provided further entertainment, along with canned spooky music. We ‘lost’ the kids in the Maize Maze while we snaffled a few corn cobs. A good time was had by all, including a high-ranking Tory politician who turned up with his publicist, only to find that we’d scooped up all the unusual pumpkins, which had clearly been set out specially for his visit. I don’t know whether he Picked His Own later, but I hope he plans to stay clear of bonfires in the next day or two.
And our pumpkins? – All carved, candles lit and successfully displayed, the seed collected and toasted, the pulp cooked into pies and soup. All at a certain amount of personal and financial cost. Nevertheless, it’s been fun, especially for the grandkids. But, I have to say, I don’t want to see another pumpkin for at least a year.