Every October, newspapers re-hash articles about how shocking or something is our wholesale adoption of American Halloween customs. Frankly, my mind always tends to wander while reading these yawn-some stories, distracted by the much more interesting accompanying photos of spooky skeleton masks. I love Halloween and all its devilish works, especially the way it annoys the sort of people who want to ban Harry Potter.
When I was a kid Halloween was a complete non-event, but now there are lots of brilliant things to buy, thanks to those crazy Yanks on their merchandise-lovin’ broomsticks. And I really enjoy all the new traditions, such as bombing down the A27 to Asda on 30th October, praying they haven’t run out of black and orange tat; or swearing as your carved pumpkin, despite every effort, still looks like John Prescott.
Things One and Two adore what they call ‘trickle treating’. This being Lewes, of course, treats tend more towards an organic satsuma than a fun-sized mars bar, but the Things are still young enough to say thank you anyway, given a prompt from the parent hiding in the hydrangea. It hasn’t yet occurred to them to squirt the fruit-offerer with purple ink.
Last year, most houses in our street put a lantern in their windows, with its traditional meaning of yes you can knock on my door and demand chocolate with menaces, but only tonight, right? Tonight I will laugh and pretend to be scared. Tomorrow I really will be scared and will call the police. Thing One wore a wizard costume, cobbled together from my extensive Goth phase. Thing Two had a crisis of confidence about the ghost costume I’d lovingly run up for him by cutting two holes in a sheet, and opted instead to dress as well-known fright-meister, Batman.
They found it a complete thrill, trotting about the darkened street, meeting neighbours they rarely see by day, and they were welcomed generously with satsumas. Only one house gave them the sort of sweets that, two or three decades ago, directly caused my seventeen fillings; and I had to confiscate them on the grounds of wanting to see if they tasted the same, err, I mean not wanting my children to experience the misery of cavities.
They were scared just once: when they started towards one particular house and I screamed ‘NO!’ Thing One recoiled, her complexion green with more than just face-paint. ‘Is that the witch’s house?’ she whispered.
The job description of every childhood includes being terrified of (or tormenting of, depending on numbers), a witch’s house in the neighbourhood. I’ve only lately realised that these houses are simply occupied by people who don’t like children and shout frighteningly at them for sport. When the Things saw a curtain twitch they bolted, as though chased by ghouls.
We’re all set for trickle-treating this weekend. Bag of teeth-rot for callers, check. Parliamentarian pumpkin, check. Random superhero costumes, check. Garlic and crosses for the witch’s house – you betcha.
Beth Miller, 27th October 2009. Published in VivaLewes.com.and in Viva Lewes magazine, October 2012.