It seems that every year the “tradition” becomes even more of a tradition in Britain, being used as marketing ploy by every household name; my inbox has been swamped with assorted offers to help me “celebrate” in restaurants, cocktail bars and adult-themed parties. At the end of the summer a company selling corsets advised the styles I should invest in suitable for Halloween whilst Debenhams department store sent a glossy beauty page suggesting I purchase an entire new make-up bag so as to create the required scary Gothic face….surely a few extra dabs of mascara and eye make-up would do the trick?
Walking through a Marks and Spencer food hall last week involved wading across huge piles of orange-wrapped sweets and chocolates disguised as pumpkins and ghosts; today I’m wondering if it all sold or will it be returned to the warehouse? If so what will happen to it? Perhaps it can be unwrapped and re-moulded into hearts for Valentine’s Day?
Of course children need special events to help them mark the year; I clearly recall how 50 years ago, in the army school in Rheindahlen, our teacher showed us how to make a pointed witch hat with black paper, decorated with moons and stars. That was our treat. Halloween was sold to us children of the “scientific” 1960s as an ancient festival; there was no chocolate involved, pumpkins were an old-fashioned vegetable linked to Cinderella and an American sweet pie.
Today also marks the birthday of John Keats in 1795; his gaining his apothecary’s licence in 1816 gives him a special place on my shelf. And his death from tuberculosis. A “romantic” poet who perhaps helped to create a less bloody image for this ghastly disease which plagued so many in the nineteenth century, and which still does. This week I read of a British vet working in Africa who had recently contracted Bovine TB; the story tells of his shock given that so few realise how easy it is to catch this killer illness. I find this somewhat odd as I had watched a BBC “Horizon” programme in the late 1980s and had researched the increase in Britain and the USA in 1990. The “scientific” 1960s sold the public a world without the old-fashioned diseases; humans had conquered space so there was no way a few germs could work their nasty magic. However, “Nature” holds its own secret spells; humankind needs to invest in finding new answers but, bizarrely seems fixed on consuming masses of energy in selling to consumers.
My other “big” memory of Halloween is arriving in New York city on October 31st during a two-week road trip in 2009. The rain poured but every character imaginable swarmed about Times Square; SpongeBob SquarePants walked alongside Batman while ghosts, ghouls and skeletons clustered around nuns in black habits. At the bus station, I admired a lone witch seemingly floating down the escalator; her beautiful face reassured us that she was no fairytale hag! Celebration was the theme and it offered a shared moment of humanity; the mounted police made their way along Fifth Avenue smiling for the cameras pointed to catch this moment in time.