Orange is the oldest black
This wickedly fun festivity haunts us every year, eagerly anticipated by children and adults alike. It has become the kickoff for the holiday shopping season, followed by Thanksgiving, Hannukah and the nec plus ultra shopping sensation: Christmas. According to the National Retail Federation and the annual survey released recently by Prosper Insights & Analytics, Americans will splurge on costumes, candy and pumpkins for a record $9.1 billion in Halloween spending this year. The figure is up 8.3 percent from last year’s previous record of $8.4 billion. For many in the trade, these four celebrations combined can make or break sales figures for the year. From costumes - with even a growing array for pets - to decoration and hand out candy, Halloween is a cash cow. For the most part though, it remains a children's ritual, a time to let their imaginations run wild. They get endless amounts of candy and a chance to dress up as their favorite action hero or idol, such as: Ninja, Dracula, "Frozen" princess, ghost, goblin or witch. They probably will run into children they don't know, wearing all kinds of costumes, some of whom can be a little spooky for the little ones. Whatever the thrill, fear is the star of Halloween night. Everyone wants a piece of it, one way or another. The smaller folk don't have to get too scared. On this night, in company of parents or their friends, they can look and act spooky, all while holding hands, which provides an extra layer of security! Teenagers seek out their Halloween shivers by watching bloody, sometimes violent and gory movies, it's so much fun! As long as they are free to shriek with their friends, that is.
Halloween in The Big Apple
In New York City, we don't have to make things complicated. Most of us live in apartment buildings so children do not have to walk far. They are carted up and down the elevators to floors whose residents signed on for candy distribution. It's so easy. It goes like this: 1) Go down to the lobby and pick up the list of distributors 2) Make sure your barking dog is behind closed doors (a spare room, if available) or make sure to stash the cat in a closet 3) Go back to the lobby and block the elevator doors while the little cherubs make a raucous noise getting in the elevator 4) Do not let any other residents on the elevator (they can take the stairs, for once....)! 5) Go to 1rst floor: ring the doorbell and as soon as your neighbor appears with the candy, everyone yell "trick or treat!!!!", have the kids grab candy by the handful all while you exchange customary greetings with said neighbor. If your child's costumes are complimented - don't listen, just nod - on cue, tell your child: "Say thank you, Mr./Mrs -?" - "Thank you Mr./Mrs - !" 6) Slam the door, move quickly on to the next one on the list. Take it from the top, repeat!
How simple is that? Keep it in your building and safely contained. Nobody has to go through too much trouble apart from getting a ton of the worst and cheapest kind of candy and maybe carving a pumpkin, sometimes... For those who live in private homes, or Brownstones, as they are called, it is a different ball game. Many residents hire decorators to accessorize and liven up their stoops. It brings a certain cachet to the block and sets them apart, with holiday spirit. I have actually seen home employees and nannies hand out candy. As I said before, most New Yorkers don't go to that much trouble. I can't speak for Brooklyn of course, they probably do everything themselves (en costume), decorate their homes with admirable imagination and serve organic candy!
This Brownstone should be on the cover of the magazine for the privileged "Towne & Country"!
Meanwhile back in Manhattan, adults enjoy a night where they can let fantasies run wild. Creativity comes out in many forms, either anything goes or almost, or not at all. The plethora of women's costumes are amazing but here are the odd top choices: naughty schoolgirls, sexy nurses, sexy devils or just sexy anything (after all this COULD be the night, couldn't it?), Snow Whites (goody two shoes) and Wonderwomen (power babes). For men: gory surgeons (it's the doctor in you), Supermen (control freaks), Captain Americas (do-gooders), Cowboys (so wild west) and Goofy Horses (it goes with wild west, sort of). I keep seeing the same costumes stacked on the racks every year. Whatever persona people choose, the common goal is to dress up, go out and have a good time. Bars are filled to the brim with loud drinkers in disguise. Parties go on all night. For forty years now Greenwich Village holds it customary NYC Village Halloween Parade. The area is filled with the craziest and very artistic creations, it's also packed, a sea of people so thick it's hard to even see them walk by. The fright-night movies are all over theaters and on television. America just cannot get enough of the orange is the oldest black night of the year! In order to understand this odd celebration, let me take you back in time.
Halloween did not make it over the Atlantic until the nineteenth century. It stemmed from a mixture of Pagan, Christian and Folkloric beliefs that added together became Halloween as we know it today. It did not evolve easily in the New World as The Puritans could not bear the thought of acknowledging any festive occasion such as one where specters and ghoulish creatures abound, and one where any association could easily mean witchcraft at hand or the work of the devil.
Part of it started with the English celebration of All Saints day on November 1. All Saints commemorates the Saints during the day and in the evening, turns towards the dead. There was also the influence of the English Guy Fawkes day, celebrated on Novermber 5th. Guy Fawkes day is about the man found guilty of a gunpowder plot in 1605 against the English king, James 1. Fawkes was part of a group opposed to the king's unpopular anti-Catholic decrees and they had planned to explode the House of the Parliament, on the day the king was present. Since Fawkes was the one in charge of setting off the explosives, he was singled out and tortured into a confession. Every year the English commemorate Guy Fawkes Day, symbolic of the foiled plot against their king and would dance in the streets carrying the straw effigy of the "Guy". Children would dress up and go out to beg for "a penny for a Guy". It was not until the Gaelic population arrived on America's shores that with them came Catholic holidays. Allhallows, All Souls and the pagan folklore Vigil of Samhain with halloween tales of the fairy folk were among them. The Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SAH-WIN) - which is an Irish word for summer's end - was the first and most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Gaelic calendar, celebrated on October 31. In Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man it was celebrated the 1rst of November.
The celebratory tradition picked up when colonists held gatherings at their farmhouses on the last day of October. It was the peak season for apples and nuts, which were important delicacies for these parties. They referred to these events as "Snap Apple Night" or even "Nutcrack Night" and like their ancestors, the pioneers treated themselves to divination games with the nuts, ducked for apples and reveled in various folk customs from their old country. They discovered that American pumpkins were perfect for making jack-o-lanterns and the carved pumpkins became a Halloween tradition. Following the potato famine in Ireland, around 1840, came a wave of Irish immigrants, bringing with them the folklore of "the little people, who were said to be unseen but always present, and were especially active on Halloween. Any mischief could be blamed on them. Those early pioneers had to have a stock of treats to give out, for any mischief could occur if the roving groups left empty handed. It seems that Halloween as we know it today, is a combination of different traditions and folklore, here to stay for the enjoyment of children and adults alike.
Halloween falls flat in France, pourquoi?
It does, for several reasons. I have read all kinds of theories and for what it is worth, here is my own. We lived in Paris when my children were small. Some of our American friends looked forward to Halloween and organized all kinds of parties for their children where everyone had a great time, French children included. It was also around the time when there was an attempt to try and get some Halloween interest going in Europe. The response seemed to be the same from everyone. Parents felt their children already had Mardi-Gras and dressed up for that. Forget makeshift creations, they have plenty of the most beautiful costumes ever available in toy shops and creative parents make them too, from time to time. Hardly any are scary, just beautifully crafted. Adults don't dress up as a rule and even if they did, the thought of a commercial plot to get some people scurrying to keep up with their neighbors across the Atlantic and spend foolishly somehow smacked of Capitalism in its worst form. The argument against the treats : well we have Crêpes, we have Galette des Rois etc... The strong Catholic influence is steeped in French tradition and you don't have to be Catholic to enjoy finding a charm in a cake, or eating Crêpes for dinner once a year. It's just that French is French and Halloween is not, voila! Mind you, as soon as French expats set foot over here, they can enjoy the evening with their children just as much as anyone. When in Rome, do as les Romains.....