There seems to be something of a modern tradition these days, on both this side of the pond and my natal one, for barely having got through one excuse for stores to sell us things and put the leftovers on sale before the next excuse looms over the horizon and we start all over again. You’ll pardon me if I appear cynical about this: you see, I remember a time when a break in transmission existed between the back-to-school period that started around the beginning of August and the run-up to Christmas that preceded the liturgical one by a good month. In other words: thank you, America, for Hallowe’en; kids and superstores alike adore you.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to my share of Hallowe’en parties, but by the time people get to my age, in my experience, it’s a case of locking the door, drawing the curtains tightly, and pretending to be out. Or, indeed, actually being out, which is much easier, although on no account would one actually be at a Hallowe’en party: that’s for the kiddies, you know. The obvious exception to this is if one is a practising member of some magical order, in which case the celebrations are thoroughly real, which is a different matter entirely.
And there’s the crux of it, right there: back home, Hallowe’en is a kids’ thing. Children dress up, wander around the streets and knock on doors, yell, “Trick or treat!” and get a week’s supply of sweets that somehow evaporates in the space of a night. What Hallowe’en is not is an excuse for grown, mature people—or even students, which I’ll grant can be a sufficiently close approximation—to get dressed up as computers, Linux penguins, Time Lords, TARDISes, anime characters, bishops, Darth Vader, or any one of the myriad costumes I saw in the space of a few hours. And, while I’m well aware of the outcomes of such revelry, the numerous posters I’ve seen while walking around campus which equate Hallowe’en with an ineluctable need for prophylactics is another source of delight which shall be a joy for ever.
Maybe it’s just that I’ve never been invited to the right kind of parties, to be greeted at the door by an ambulatory Mona Lisa with a daiquiri in one hand and a bowl of johnnies in the other. Or, maybe, it’s simply that I lack the confidence to enter into the swing of such things: after all, my countrymen have something of a reputation for being reserved and aloof, treating all such things as “Colonial frivolity.” On the other hand, I know quite a number of Brits who not only can enter into the spirit of such things but frequently do, so it can’t be that: more likely it’s just that they are themselves the exception and not the rule.
For me, Hallowe’en is a night to dim the lights, settle in by the fireside and reach down my well-thumbed copy of old-fashioned, spine-creeping ghost stories. I had a dear friend who asserted regularly, “Sometimes you just have to feed the monsters.” When better than when the barriers between us and them is at its most thin?
Quis est iste qui venit? asks M R James: O, whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad …