Open Thinkering


Why we don’t celebrate Hallowe’en in our house

As a write this post we’ve got the lights off at the front of our house and, instead of being parked on the drive, our car is parked in a nearby street. Why? It’s Hallowe’en.

It’s not that we live in a rough neighbourhood and I’m scared of the kids. It’s that I:

  • can’t (as a historian/philosopher) see the point in it
  • don’t wish to celebrate evil, even implicitly
  • think that it’s 99% marketing-fuelled

Ten quick facts about Hallowe’en:

  1. It’s not a pagan festival.
  2. It was originally a couple of days of feasting without much religious or supernatural significance.
  3. Before the 8th century it was celebrated in May.
  4. It’s related to the enthusiastic ringing of bells by Catholics on All Souls Day to assist the passage of souls from purgatory.
  5. Hallowe’en traditions almost completely died out in England before the 20th century.
  6. Around this time, girls traditionally attempted to find out via various ‘signs’ – such as brushing their hair at midnight in front of a mirror – who they would marry.
  7. In 1950s England people either celebrated Guy Fawkes night or Hallowe’en, depending on geographic location.
  8. There was an ‘explosion of interest’ in Hallowe’en in the 1970s/80s and ‘trick or treating’ due to the influence of American TV series and films such as ET (1982) which depicted such scenes.
  9. Teachers have been accused of encouraging the spread of Hallowe’en celebrations to remove the focus on Guy Fawkes (‘Bonfire’) Night and associated safety concerns.
  10. Hallowe’en parties in England have been going since around the 1920s/30s and are now the busiest time of the year for fancy-dress hire shops.

The above were gleaned from a book I came across this weekend at Barter Books. I added photos of relevant pages to my Evernote account.

So, in conclusion, dressing up as something scary and begging is not something I’ll be encouraging my children to do when they’re old enough. Whilst I could open the door and lecture each group of children, the words ‘water’ and ‘off a duck’s back’ spring to mind. And, to be honest, I don’t want to be ‘that guy’.

The power of the media and invented tradition is, unfortunately, too powerful.

50 thoughts on “Why we don’t celebrate Hallowe’en in our house

    1. Almost 4 and almost born. We ignore those who ring the doorbell. From next year onwards we'll be following the suggestion of one tweeter who takes the family out to dinner. :-)

  1. we don't celebrate Halloween either – for the second reason above. And noone has trick or treated us this year. Normally it's just J's friends who come around.

  2. Oh I just had to post again to agree again! I am old enough to remember pre- Trick or Treat times. I lived in the USA from 1982-1984 and that's where I discovered this strange custom called Trick or Treat which we had to have explained to us – I mean – you either provide children with sweets for free or they do something mean to you? I ask you… Then I came back to the UK and shortly after it took hold here. I don't agree with the comment it is just harmless fun for children , even if they do go around with their parents – why should we have to fork out for free bags of goodies for children we don't possibly know or else worry what might happen if we don't answer the door (as I just didn't!!)

  3. Me neither Doug. I'm not religious but do have some philosophical doubts. Mostly I object to this as an American import – what next, Thanksgiving? I'm not anti-American, lived there happily for 4 years, but it's a shame to see the entire world turning the same shade of red, white and blue.

  4. Well put, it’s. A massively hyped marketing exercise of dubious point and does turn into a menacing evening

    1. Thanks Roger. I can only imagine being an old, frail person at this time of year. A couple of people have called me 'grumpy' on Twitter. I'm prepared to be castigated as such to make a stand against the thoughtless application of mainstream invented tradition to my own family's life.

  5. Very well put Doug! Hallowe'en has become an over hyped commercial cash cow. You're not the only one with the lights off at the front of the house!

  6. Each to their own. I like that you stick to your principles and don’t cave in to the commercialised non-event.

    What I find sad is that you feel there is so much pressure to participate that you are hidden away with lights off at the front of your house and your car is moved. Where I live there are lots of trick or treaters but if you don’t have a pumpkin they don’t knock on the door.


  7. My children and I enjoyed baking halloween treats when they were young and giving them out to spooky visitors. 1 of the funniest memories is of several (8?) little witches who were all desperate to use the toilet and queued up in our hall. There are few enough chances to have fun in life, how is this one worse than "penny for the guy" which we all did as kids?

    1. One's based on tradition (albeit anti-Catholic hysteria) and the other's not. One's based on the celebration of disaster averted, the other's a thinly-veiled marketing exercise. I could go on…

    1. Indeed. There's some things I play on my PS3 which are fairly violent and wouldn't want my son seeing. But then that's in the privacy of my own home.

  8. LOL… well, i think those are all fair points. And a lot of fun in and of themselves. Just wondering if there was another point of view. I mean simply just that most occasions these days are marketing exercises of one form or another. Christmas, new years, weddings etc.. they all make someone money. But, the fun is not had by marketers and sales people but, by people. To that end what's the harm in kids dressing up, getting some sugar to help them fill their role as the worst nuisance parents could have (ever) and that's that.

    Don't get me wrong. I love Guy Fawkes. I used to live near Lewis (East Sussex) and it was great. I now live in Los Angeles and on Friday, near our local main street seeing kids dressed up and excited. Well, life gets too serious too quickly and it was good to see kids having fun.

    OK I admit. Not exactly a point of view. More just a feeling.

      1. Well… I don' think I quite say "no matter what the context". I think I mention a fairly specific context and would personally stretch the context further and just say – it's good to see kids having fun (so long as no one is getting hurt).

        I think that there are two different aesthetics at play. I for one like the idea of kids having fun, enjoying themselves and letting their hair down, I don't have to 'get' what they're doing. It's been a long time since I played 'cops and robbers' but assume that in their minds it's worth it. Life gets too serious too quickly and learning to enjoy yourself with others is as important an education as any other. No?

        You're reasoning starts with 'I can't see the point in it'. Well, that's fair enough. But, I would argue that marketers and sales people have grip on just about everything, it doesn't matter if you're a historian or a plummer – we all have to take some light in life and Halloween or any other occasion is an opportunity to do that. I am also sure that you know that no-one is actually celebrating evil. They're making a joke at it at most (but most likely not even thinking in terms of good and evil).

  9. Where we live all manner of strange and large groups appear at the door. Few are 'proper' trick or treaters' and many are quite intimidating to anyone elderly i would imagine. I object to this, I also object to having to spend most of the night wandering back and forward to answer the door to tell them to go away. I have no religious views one way or the other, but I find it an absurd and stupid thing to encourage. I'd also say the same about 'penny for the guy' – I recall this being a real tradition back in the 1950s. We also have the same situation of 'carol singers' in the run up to Xmas – its all just an excuse to try and get money or treats from people, and the number of reports on Twitter tonight about houses being 'egged' shows the criminal nature of the process.

  10. Here in NZ Halloween is *trying* to take off. As in the marketers are pushing it pretty hard. In our neighbourhood we had a number of kids trick or treating last night… We just ignored them knocking on the door for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we didn't have anything to give them so why bother opening the door and secondly as the evening got later the kids weren't so cute and with their parents – rather they were bored teenagers wandering around trying their luck… I don't want to draw the attention of bored teenagers to us or our house. Going for a walk this morning there were plenty of smashed eggs and bottles around the place and I just think it's more hassle than it's worth. If my *future* kids wanted to dress up and trick or treat I think we might do the opposite by dressing up and delivering treats to the neighbours…

  11. I totally agree with the majority of your points. The thing I would be most concerned about however is that society seems to spend a lot of time warning children about not accepting sweets etc from strangers but all of a sudden once a year it's ok to go around to strangers houses and ask for treats. What a way to send mixed messages! I don't personally see how it is safe and I would consider myself quite rude were I to venture out into the night and ask strangers for food or treats.

    I have no real issue with people dressing up as witches, vampires, werewolves etc. at private parties as I am fairly certain that they do not exist in any shape or form and therefore don't see the harm.

    As to the marketing – What abouut St. Valentine's Day?

  12. We also do lights off. I am glad to see not only one. Others on the estate I live are single retired people and the recent fashion of trick and treat is very frightening for them. If my neighbours have children and want to do an arranged calling – we will go along with that – but no more than that.

  13. I grew up in UK in 50s as a Catholic. I never knew about Halloween but we celebrated All Soul’s when Mass was said for the dead and we remembered loved ones who had died.
    Never heard anything about souls passing from Purgatory.
    Nowadays I have no religious belief and think evil is countries using torture and blaming others who expose the lies.
    We have never seen or experienced problems on this eve and are happy to give our neighbours children some sweets.

    1. You see what you did there? You changed the above points into (implicitly) those who are against Hallowe'en being against giving children sweets.

  14. I don't agree with Halloween either. My kids think I'm a fuddy-duddy but the celebration of evil, the idea of kids begging at strangers doors for sweets, and the implicit suggestion that if you don't provide them with anything they might do some damage to your property – it's all hogwash. Guy Fawkes Night I've no problem with (ok, there's the argument that it's anti-Catholic but I can't say as a kid I ever picked up on any of that)

    1. …and I suppose that some may argue that children don’t pick up on the ‘evil’ element of Hallowe’en – but Guy Fawkes isn’t really normalising evil.

  15. With you all the way on this Doug. For me this is another example of me, me, me. By all means have a party & celebrate Halloween if you wish; that is your prerogative. But please don’t inflict it on other people by turning up, unannounced at their door – that’s thoughtless, inconsiderate and demands they enter your idea of festivities. The thought that someone else may not share the same idea of a good time as you is selfish and sadly all too prevalent.
    And apologies if that comes across as all ‘bah humbug.’

  16. We were far too busy celebrating Samhain and (slightly in advance) Dia de los Muertos to notice Halloween, to be honest. Both festivals involve feasting, light, costumes, games, legends and thoughts of the dead.

    Incidentally, you may not be aware that trick-or-treat has a biblical antecedent!

    Basically these priests were all like "GTFO evil spirits, jesus sez" and the guy with an evil spirit was like "O rly? LOL, n00b. Ur not Jesus" and commenced to pwn them utterly and steal their pants. Acts 19:13-16 (I paraphrase, obviously).

  17. I agree with you here Doug, for two main reasons: firstly when one expresses any concerns or shows any disapproval of the 'festival' one is attacked for 'spoiling the fun', I would like to have the choice to join in. Secondly I don't think it is celebrated as a festival it is just another American celebration, for example, what have zombies got to do with Hallowe'en?

  18. I don't celebrate Christmas. Same reasons:

    * can’t see the point in it
    * don’t wish to celebrate evil
    * think that it’s 99% marketing-fueled

    On the other hand, I kind of like Halloween. We made our own costumes ourselves, out of scraps – and I see even today than many of the kids still do improvise. And it's fun to masquerade. It's also healthy to celebrate a 'day of the dead', if only to remind us, and children, of our own mortality.

  19. I feel the same about Christmas! again, December the 25th hijacked by Christians for a celebration that should have taken place in March. If we celebrate Christmas in this over-hyped and commercialised society I think it would be very difficult to take the moral high ground on Halloween. PS The English don't celebrate Halloween, however, in Ireland and Scotland its huge…they're hardly going to celebrate the burning effigy of a prominent Catholic now are they.

    1. I think you’ve got a bit confused with the last statement. I *live* in England at the English certainly do celebrate Hallowe’en. Perhaps you mean Guy Fawkes?

  20. I am confused, absolutely! I too live in England, and what I meant to say was – Many English poo-poo Halloween as an Americanism, however, I remember as a very young child dressing as a witch/devil, and collecting fruit and sweets from neighbours for our Halloween party.
    Traditionally it is a Celt new year festival (Hence the association with Paganism) The belief was that spirits visited us on 31st October, so we dressed in 'disguise' i.e. as a spirit. Originally the tradition was to give foods to the spirits (which is where the giving of treats comes from. During the migration of the Irish and Scottish to America, this was changed to giving treats to the poor.
    My Father is Irish and a Roman Catholic, as were many in the area I grew up in England, consequently, this festival had greater significance than a very English burning of a Catholic. The growth of the tradition in England as mobility increases from Scotland and Ireland and back from America was inevitable, so in a climate of tolerance of all faiths and belief systems, surely there is a place for the Pumpkin on the festival table, or is Santa just too fat these days to let anything else on??

  21. Ah yes, the usual English sniffiness about Halloween. You guys know you aren’t the only part of the UK? Halloween is and always has been a huge thing in Scotland and (Northern) Ireland due to the strong Celtic vibe and the fact that despite our reputation for bigotry and sectarianism, we don’t think it’s acceptable to basically host ‘Burn a Catholic’ Day and get our kids to wave sparklers as they watch.

    We celebrated Halloween with trick or treating (also known as guising) when I was a kid in Ireland and my parents and their parents had done the same. Admittedly you had to do something more than just shout trick or treat in those days and you tended to get apples. Halloween was also a very cross community thing for us and religious divides were set aside for the night. We also talked of those who had died and used it as a time to think about loss.

    I was amazed to discover how anti Halloween a lot of English people can be because they think of it as a ‘Catholic’ thing. Sure, it could stand to be a bit less commercial, but I’ll be sticking with it instead of Guy Fawkes with its naked hatred and intolerance.

    PS: I’m not Catholic.

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