A trick, or a treat?

2 November 2007

Our obsession with Halloween has always bemused me. It’s bad enough that I could walk into Next in August and be confronted by an array of Christmas cards and wrapping paper, but it’s somehow even weirder that by that point I also couldn’t take two steps in Sainsbury’s without being accosted by a fake spider or something – anything – orange. It’s everywhere: the Magic Joke Shop has had disturbing trails of spiderwebs across its window since the beginning of term, Sainsbury’s have had Covent Garden halloween soup on offer for what feels like an eternity and even M&S sells special Trick or Treat sweets. And for what? An Americanised, irrelevant day that has the misfortune to fall somewhere between the end of the supermarket barbecue season and the beginning of mince pie mania.

Ironically, I’m neither a massive anti-commercialist or a Christian who thinks that the whole bright orange and black circus is dangerous paganism. I can even see the benefit of having a national day of soon-to-be-reduced themed food (after all, Christmas is virtually that) to brighten up the dark evenings between now and December. Perhaps it releases something in the national psyche, a bizarre kind of catharsis so that everyone can return safely to work knowing that they’ve laid their latent desire to don a bright green wart-ridden mask and black cape safely to rest for another year. But I can’t believe that we really have to run round scaring harmless old ladies and looking even odder than at a bop to make our lecture rooms a wart-free zone (eccentric lecturers apart).

Admittedly, I risk sounding like both a killjoy and, perhaps more worryingly at the tender age of twenty, my mother, but the idea of what amounts to legalised bribery of the elderly really is a bit sinister. I thought that threatening to throw something disgusting at a woman at least four times your age in return for sweets was restricted to the under-fives, but it appears that my basic understanding of child development was wrong. Maybe I should blame AS Psychology. Call me Scrooge, but I fail to see how for one day of the year anyone wearing a bit of face paint is suddenly granted license to ask for freebies at any house they want to. It’s not as if it’s only anxiously shepherded eight-year-olds who do it: a group of fifteen-year olds bearing paint, eggs and a bottle of White Lightning really can’t play the cute card. Before I turn into the Daily Mail, though, it needs to be pointed out that I’m not on some kind of anti-‘thug’ (read, anyone under the age of thirty who ventures out after 9pm) crusade; I just don’t understand how scaring other people’s grandparents can temporarily turn into a national sport

However, vanity, Age Concern and the usual gentle dose of anti-Americanism aside, I must confess that the main reason I’ll be staying safely inside this Halloween is slightly different. I just don’t like being scared. I can count the number of horror films I’ve seen on one hand, and even those were watched with my face buried safely in my popcorn as a laughing friend told me when it was safe to look. The Ring gave me nightmares for a fortnight, The Village seemed terrifying (I’m reliably informed that to normal people it’s not), and I deliberately fell asleep during Saw. I’ve even been known to hide behind a cushion in Doctor Who. So a night when the whole country is full of DIY ghosts, witches and vampires is never going to be a personal favourite. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that I’m not the only one. Under all that green facepaint, buried somewhere beneath the pile of orange-and-black foil chocolate, everyone’s a little bit worried that it just might be real. There’s surely a dissertation in the fact that as society becomes increasingly secular, we find ever more inventive ways to safely disguise our lingering superstitions with a mixture of commercialisation and chocolate. So go ahead, buy that witch’s hat, carve a wonky face on a pumpkin. But make sure you look behind you when it gets dark. And, please, leave the sweet-snatching to the eight-year-olds.