Halloween, has all but finished and, as the fireworks of November 5th fade and the price of pumpkins drop, I’m left speculating on this, one of our stranger festivals.
As a child there was no ‘trick or treat’, no fancy costumes or parties, because Halloween melted under the greater English celebration of Bonfire Night. ’Remember, remember the 5th of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot!’ and all the excitement of saving for fireworks & gathering round the communal bonfire put the carved turnip head lanterns to shame.
I was reminded of how bizarre the celebration of November the 5th actually was, a few years ago, whilst attending a village bonfire in the UK, with a young French friend. “Tell me again why you celebrate not killing a king, by burning an image of someone who was only a puppet in a conspiracy?” Put like that it sounds completely different, but I felt sure she too must have similar strange celebrations. “Quite possibly”, she replied, “but we killed our royalty and if we did have such a celebration it would be with fine food & wine”. Made my plastic cup of indifferent cider and over cooked sausage seem rather insipid...point taken!
So it started me musing about the whole Halloween thing, why it’s gotten so big and what now makes it a firm family favourite. I think it’s something to do with dressing up, wearing masks and carving pumpkins that appeals to our inner creative selves. When else would we encourage our children to roam the streets (albeit with an adult) and knock on complete strangers doors shouting ‘Trick or Treat’? Indeed a friend was taken with the concept of Halloween she took her border collie with coat laden with treats round the neighbours’ houses to deliver the goodies, such a lovely idea and how delighted those children must have been. Children like to be a bit frightened, look a bit scary and maybe, as adults, we too like the excuse to join in. Maybe it’s this ability to act out the powerful, scary or dark role that appeals; its escape from the ordinary and we get to play out late!
Now teachers and, in particular primary teachers, know this only too well and utilise any excuse to enliven children’s work with colour, description or imagination. We can add up broomsticks, describe witches and print with pumpkins, all in the name of education. And, if we are lucky we get to join in and dress up, because any teacher worth their salt is in touch with their childhood self.
At a friend’s school recently, the children were involved in the work of a local artist who had completed a mural entitled ‘The Magical Tree’. Children & staff were asked to dress up as something magical to create a colourful fantasy around Halloween. Two staff members, suitably attired were hurrying to join the fun when they were caught, mid sentence discussing their relative costumes;
“Well look at us”, one said “Never thought I’d see it, the drag queen bunny and the pregnant fairy!”
Now that’s an image to savour!