When I was a kid we didn’t do Halloween in England. It was an American thing, something I read about in American comic books, or saw on the odd TV programme, and that was all, or so I thought till I went to live with my aunt in Dublin. They had Halloween there, for sure: it was Guy Fawkes Night, basically, but with Guy Fawkes luckily absent from the pyrotechnic proceedings, such as they were – few bonfires, and with fireworks rare. I didn’t realise it till years later, but of course it’s because Guy Fawkes was a Catholic, and not just any old Catholic, but one who’d tried to blow up the Protestant king and government of England. They were hardly going to celebrate barbecuing him in Catholic Ireland.
Fireworks were also rather hard to get in the Republic. Southerners, it was said, went on mysterious missions ‘up north’, enacting their own Gunpowder Plot. Those who refused, in those days, to contribute to the British economy, might well have regarded it as treason.
I date Halloween in Britain to sometime in the 1990s. I was living abroad by 1990, and we didn’t have it in Britain then. When I got back in the late 90s, we did, for some reason – pure commercialism, I guess; it was imported and forced on a mostly willing public, unlike, say, income tax or the death penalty. I think it had something to do with the growth of festivals, and how lots of people got the taste for dressing up funny and partying and getting out of it, with any excuse. And why not? I mean, one thing London really needs is yet more pissed people wandering around looking wacky. So now we have the virulent anti-Catholic cat-scaring whiz-bang of Guy Fawkes and the crazy dressing up of Halloween all together in the space of five days. Perfect. If you like that kind of thing.
My wife is from Northern Ireland. She tells me that when she was young, kids there did a thing they called Halloween Dunders; it involved knocking on people’s doors and legging it. I mean, we used to do that all the time in London, or, at least, anytime we were bored. We called it Knock Down Ginger, for some reason; poor old Ginger, whoever he ever was. I can’t see the point of Halloween Dunders – it’s all trick and no treat. They’re pretty hardcore in Ulster.