Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Halloween mania, US style

I knew that America was crazy about Halloween. I really did. I mean, I've seen the movies, read the children's stories, and know from my experience writing about marketing that it's a really, really major deal here (and that the mania is extending more and more to the UK each year.)

But I still didn't really get it. I didn't realise how Halloween dominates the whole of the autumn season, with the first pumpkins and decorations appearing in the shops in late August; how the whole town would be talking about costumes from at least mid-September; how everything everywhere would be pumpkin-themed, including a special Pumpkin Spice latte at Starbucks (which, I have to say, sounds foul).

I wouldn't have predicted that we would get letters from preschool asking for the boys to wear their costumes all day on a particular day and bring in treats for the whole class. They were also given a special box asking us to collect for a particular charity 'when you go trick or treating'. (not 'if'). The Doctor, who claims not to be a fan of Halloween, looked at me in horror. "We're not really going to go are we?" " I think we're going to have to," I replied......)

I didn't realise that here, Halloween decorations for the home go beyond the odd carved pumpkin in a window. There are houses in our town with huge, inflatable witches and ghosts in their front gardens; entire spooky graveyards planted in their lawns; life-size skeletons sitting on their front porches; not to mention armies of pumpkins stretching from their front doors to the street. (We have two small pumpkins - one painted a series of 'interesting' colours by Littleboy1 - and are definitely letting the side down). No doubt they'll be replaced by equally impressive Christmas displays after the 31st- or maybe people have Thanksgiving decorations (inflatable turkeys)?

Now don't get me wrong. I do think Halloween is fun. I'm not being a Halloween Scrooge or a Halloween denier. My mother threw my sister and I a fantastic Halloween party as a child and it was probably the best party we ever had. I love apple bobbing, jack o' lanterns and all that stuff. And some of the decorations really are pretty (although not the inflatable witch).

But it seems to me that Halloween here has become practically the biggest festival of the year. There was nothing like this big a fuss about the big American holidays - the Fourth of July, for example. People seem to get excited about it in a manner that would only apply to Christmas in the UK. (Example: I belong to an online 'Moms' group for the town, and I've seen emails from mothers worrying - really STRESSING - about not being able to get a particular costume for their kids. And one of our neighbours was worrying two weeks ago, during a rainstorm, that the weather might not clear up in time for Halloween... )

And I do wonder if the day itself might even be an anti-climax, after so much feverish excitement. You can't even get a pumpkin in the supermarket this week - it's almost like we've moved on before it's happened.

Still, I'm willing to get into the Halloween 'spirit' for the time being, mainly because I know the Littleboys will love it. Maybe we'll even persuade The Doctor to come trick or treating. And who knows, maybe back in Nappy Valley in three years' time we'll be assembling giant inflatable pumpkins on our porch.....

14 comments:

marla said...

It's a fairly recent thing - this Halloween mania. And some of us are not so keen on it at all. In fact, I'm glad my kids are nearly grown and out of the trick or treating stage.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

The Little Boys will LOVE it. I send you the mother of boys special thoughts for their hyper on all that sugar phase...

I'd love to see the inflatable pumpkins in Nappy Valley!

ps - my word verification is undeaddl, spooooky huh?

mothership said...

They'll LOVE it. And for all its garishness it's actually quite fun. I have come to like it because everyone is out, and although there is a lot of paraphernalia that surrounds it, there are no presents involved (at least no big ones) so it's really just about walking around getting sweeties for little kids. And as a bonus you can eat it after they've gone to bed because they're too small to count!!!
on the down side, though. I'm nervous about H1N1 being able to cling to the sweetie wrappers so I'm considering doing a big switcheroo when they're not looking but I might be being paranoid...

I think the Doctor is actually going to have quite a larrrf, too. Husband actually smiled last year when we went out and that is something very rare as he is a mournful German.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I guess 1st time round a 'genoowine' American Halloween will have novelty value, but it does sound v OTT. Personally I am for once quite glad Albanians don't celebrate it here. I mind they don't celebrate Christmas, but Halloween, uh-uh.

Expat mum said...

I find it quite fun. Our neighbourhood is full of people trick or treating and generally hanging out. You can make it as low key as you want really. We have costumes, but I took the Little Guy to Target and he picked out of what was there. He must've understood that if what he wanted wasn't there, he wasn't getting it. I like to make the costumes but he was having none of it. Still, the 5'8" inch Queenager wantes to be Tinkerbell so I'm up to my neck in green sparkly material at the moment.

Noble Savage said...

Inflatable decorations are never okay, not for Halloween *or* Christmas. But you will undoubtedly see a metric shit-ton of them as the holiday season progresses. Giant snowmen and Santas flapping in the wind await you...

Personally, I love Halloween. Not to the extent that I go nuts about costumes in September or put up mega decorations, but still...I find it rather depressing that it's viewed so cynically and suspiciously here in the UK. I thought about taking my daughter trick-or-treating this year and I had a few people tell me it would be a bad idea because many Brits regard it as 'begging' and that families who allow their children to do it are rude and greedy. Geez louise, it's just supposed to be about candy, fun and scariness but I guess some people take it more seriously than that! I even had my next door neighbour last year tell me he couldn't come to my Halloween party because he's Christian! Um, we're not doing to sacrifice a goat in flaming pentagram, dude, chill out.

And that concludes my rant about Halloween in the UK...you may return to your bemusement at the American version, which is, I agree, a bit OTT.

Almost American said...

According to NPR a couple of years ago, Halloween is the 4th most commercial 'holiday' in the US nowadays (the others being Christmas, the SuperBowl, and New Year!)

I've blogged about Halloween before, but now I may have to again.

nappy valley girl said...

Marla - clearly, the people who are not so into it here are keeping very quiet....

Brit in Bosnia - that is indeed spooky. Thanks for the wishes - I think I'll be rationing the candy (doublespeak for eating it myself...)

Mothership - I now have a vivid picture of your husband being mournfully German about the whole thing but dressed as a vampire!

Paradise - it is rather OTT; someone even told me yesterday that if it's raining, people take their kids trick or treating in shopping malls....(!)

Expat Mum - full marks for costume making. Both the boys' costumes are bought I'm afraid - one from Woollies last year just before it closed down.....

Noble Savage - I had a teacher at school in the UK who went on a TV chat show to argue the point of view that Halloween was evil (he was a born again Christian). We all thought he was a total prat. Small children definitely trick or treated in our area of London, just not to the extent they do here.

Almost American - Interesting. I'm surprised it's not further up there, although I know that Superbowl is huge commercially. I'll be interested to see your take, popping over to have a look.....

Iota said...

You mean you and the Doctor haven't been planning your own costumes for a few weeks?

Actually, I really enjoy trick or treating with the kids - although philosophically I disapprove of it, because of the sheer amount of candy it produces. Make sure you get your strategy for dealing with that ready before the event. I took a photo of last year's haul, and it was a huge heap. People don't just give you one piece. They scoop a handful into your child's bag. So if you visit 20 houses, they'll have 20 handfuls of candy. Just warning you.

I hid most of our haul, and the children didn't even notice. Then I gave most of it to our church for their Christmas party, but the Hallowe'en themed stuff I ended up binning (which really went against the grain, but seemed less bad than letting my kids eat it all).


If you get home early and put the Littleboys to bed, you could then give away some of their candy to older trick or treaters who come by - that gets rid of some of it.

Bush Mummy said...

I remember when I was living in Manhattan watching the madness of the Halloween parade processing beneath my window and being utterly astonished at what a big deal it was.

I think it taps into the US love of all child-like things.. that and yet another excuse to eat sweets.

Bonkers if you ask me..

BM x

A Modern Mother said...

Ahhh, you're making me homesick ;-)

Fourdownmumtogo said...

Hope you had fun. We went Trick or Treating after Jacob's birthday party and it was great. Tis a pretty big deal in our little corner of North London too, though the decoration still usually only run to the odd carved pumpkin or two.

I just wonder how long it will take to scrape the boys off the ceiling once they get their hands on all those sweets....

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Can't wait to hear how they got on! And inflatable pumpkin sounds fun; maybe you should buy one. After all, you could use it as a bouncy castle after the spooky season is finally over?!
Bizarrely, hardly any of our trick or treaters last night actually said, 'Trick or Treat?'. Instead, they said, 'Happy Halloween'. What's all that about?

nappy valley girl said...

Iota - we fell down badly on the costumes front, admittedly, but had the excuse that we were Brits and didn't know the drill...

BushMummy - bonkers indeed, but I suppose it must be good news for the confectionery industry?

Susanna - sorry! I just had the same repsonse from a Brit friend who spend three years in America and is now in the Middle Esat....

Fourdownmumtogo - we did have great fun actually, and so far have managed some rationing of treats. Post Mortem to follow soon....

Angels and Urchins - will definitely be shipping back a few inflatables....