Pay Up!

Well, we’ve hollowed out the pumpkin to make the traditional Jack o’Lantern, we’ve got a huge bowl of cheap sweets for any Trick or Treaters – I guess we’re ready for Halloween.


« Cheap sweets! » you scream. OF COURSE, cheap sugary sweets in lurid colours, full of chemical flavourings. Eat too many of these and you’ll get a mouthful of tooth decay – but the kids love ‘em. At least I bought sweets. When the offspring was still at that age to haunting peoples’ doorways on Halloween, I remember most of the sweets were well past their sell by or eat by date. People seem to use Halloween as an occasion to get rid all their unwanted and uneaten crap – that box of cheap chocs you got last Christmas and have never opened. It’s still lurking at the back of a kitchen cupboard. Don’t throw it out. Give it to the Trick or Treaters.

Ten years back, Halloween was big business in France – supermarkets selling seasonal disguises and appropriate accessories. Ten years before that, no one had ever heard of Halloween. It was one of those strange American festivals that you might see in imported U.S. TV shows and wonder what the hell it was all about. Then, in the post summer holiday and pre Christmas economic doldrums, the big French retail chains introduced Halloween as a good money-making opportunity.

Let’s face it; if you are running a large supermarket chain, in late October and early November there is not much going on. In September French kids crawl unwillingly back to school. Throughout the summer (even before the long school vacation starts) supermarket shelves are heaving under the weight of all the crap that you need to equip your kids to head back to the classroom – pens, paper, school bags, shoes, clothes and nowadays computers, i-pads and even TVs (as if your kid needs a TV in his or her room to encourage academic success) – Once we’re all back at school, it is time for the seasonal wine fair, where there were once school bags, there are now crates of wine going at knockdown prices. This is when the French fill up their wine cellars for the year. Why have a wine fair now? We want to drink wine all year (well I do.) Well in this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the grape harvests are in full swing. The vineyards are full of nimble fingered, and cheap-to-employ Eastern european migrants who are busy picking your favorite chateau plonk. Most wine fairs end in mid-October and supermarket toy fairs don’ really start until the first week in November, leaving supermarket bosses with a two or three week period without any money-making wheeze – So, why not do Halloween? It’s mostly for kids and there is nothing better than kids for getting their parents to spend their hard-earned cash on a load of crap. (Do you really need a plastic, blood covered axe retailing at 5 Euros? And when are you going to wear your “made in China” 5 Euro witch hat other than one night a year? Are you really going to wear it to work?)

So, around ten or fifteen, years ago, the French discovered Halloween. Hey embraced it and adopted it as their own. Suddenly on the night of 31st October, the darkened streets of France were filled with gangs of mini ghouls, ghosts, vampires, witches zombies and demons, going from door to door asking for sweets. The generation that adopted Halloween though finally grew up, and when they moved into adulthood, their childhood festival died.

I suppose we might get a couple of groups of assorted witches and ghosts turning up for treats or threatening us all with eternal damnation, and the my Trick or Treat bowl is meagre affair this year.

As a dad, I used to enjoy taking the offspring out Trick or Treating. Mind you, we used to have to arrange a specific circuit beforehand. There are quite a few elderly people round here who switch off their lights and bolt their doors on Halloween night, so you have to make sure that you only call on families with young kids.

I suppose Halloween isn’t totally dead – said he as he went downstairs to light the pumpkin and pop it on a window ledge at the front of the house. (Okay that’s done)

Dwelling on those festivals that we don’t have in France. The great American festival of Thanksgiving comes to mind. Once again, thanks to the plethora of American TV shows on our screens, we’ve all heard of it – we even know what it’s about, but it hasn’t made it across the pond. Not even the Big French retail bosses have managed to repackage Thanksgiving into a convenient Gallic format to sell to French shoppers.

There is also that strangest of English festival « Guy Fawkes Night » (or bonfire night if you want to be more politically correct) where the Brits gather in their droves to let off fireworks and burn the effigy of a Guy. I can’t see this one taking off in France. Any excuse is good for fireworks, but it’s the whole historical basis of the festival.

« OK kids, were going to celebrate the execution of a Catholic conspirator who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament on London on the 5th of November 1605 – the day on which King James 1st was due to attend the official opening of the new parliamentary session. Had the plot worked, the king and his majority protestant parliament would have gone sky high. An explosive beginning to a century that was generally bathed in the blood of religious conflict.

Anyway, bad old Guy Fawkes was hung, drawn and quartered – hung by the neck until almost dead, then his body cut open and his innards scooped out whilst still alive (no anaesthetic).

Is that worth celebrating? Would the French go for the concept? How do you market that kind of thing in a country that is predominantly Catholic?

Back to Halloween (or what is left of it in France). This year’s big wheeze – gangs of youths in Clown disguises walking round and beating people up filming the attacks then posting the video on social media networks. I suppose this comes from the plethora of evil clown films that we have had over the pest few years. So, if I get a gang of clowns armed with chainsaws, guns and baseball bats, they might just get more than a fistful of cheap sweets?

Whether you get solicited by witches or beaten up by clowns – Happy Halloween

Here is a Halloween poem that I wrote in primary school

Kids dressed as ghosts

Go from door-to-door,

Telling you to pay up

Or they’ll haunt you ever more


Witches on broomsticks

Fly about the sky,

Turning people into toads,

No one knows quite why

 And a new verse for this Halloween

Kids disguised as clowns and

Armed with baseball bats

Going from door-to-door

Beating people into crap.