Spectator: Lucy Baring on Halloween

I loathe Halloween. I loathe everything about it. I loathe the outsized pumpkins gathered in bins by the exit of super-markets, the hideous masks and witches’ fingers on sale within. I loathe the chocolate teeth-but not as much as I loathe the pink-and-white ones. I loathe the plastic pumpkin-shaped buckets in that hideous shade of orange.

This isn’t a gripe about the over-commercialisation of an ancient Christian/pagan/folk festival-a tricky cocktail, but with something for everyone. I never wanted to dress up as a witch. I wouldn’t have minded being a sheeted ghost, but, for some reason, ghosts were always boys. We didn’t go trick or treating and we didn’t try to look like Frankenstein (or worse).

There’s nothing fun about apple-bobbing, especially when you’re then moved on to the fun game of sticking your face in a mountain of flour in order to find a boiled sweet with your tongue, a combination of amusing activities that means your face gets papier-mâchéd and you emerge with glue in your eyelashes. When the oranges go under the chin so you have to exchange excruciating moves with another child who you don’t know or don’t like, you want to go and sit in the car.

When I had my own children, I ignored the whole thing, until we had a Cumbrian nanny who’d spent some years in America. She created order out of chaos, but she also brought Halloween into our calendar.

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She had a real sense of fun, so the date became associated with eyeball soup and dead-finger pasta and lots and lots of chocolate. She dressed up. I didn’t. When she left, I tried to revert to earlier years-don’t mention it and they’ll forget. This wasn’t always successful and there were years when, with ill grace, I gave in to the pressure.

There was the year when 15 children mummified each other in loo rolls in the kitchen. I clicked my teeth at the waste, but it still gets mentioned as one of the great childhood memories. There was the year when I spent hours making a devil’s fork for Will who broke it in the car en route to the ‘spooky’ party and then refused to go.

The year when the aforementioned nanny had tipped off the only two houses within a mile of ours, which meant I drove the children to the not-quite-neighbours, where they were given bags and bags of sweets and I wondered if we’d got the trick or treating custom quite right. I always think I’ll enjoy the pumpkin carving, but as the knives flash, it becomes obvious that this isn’t an activity for children, so you take over and then you have to spend hours scooping out the flesh and all those wretched seeds. You don’t make soup and you toast the seeds, which are thrown away later.

There is no grapefruit knife sharp enough to carve the homegrown ‘blue’ pumpkin, whose flesh is as impenetrable as granite. I gave a mass of these to the children’s school one year, which meant a lot of disappointed five year olds when the teachers couldn’t make a dent let alone a snaggle tooth in them. And anyway, the wretched lantern always grows mould about two days before Halloween
and the candle-blackened flesh begins to smell.

This year, with proper neighbours, it’s possible that we really will be in a position to trick or treat, a custom that has, I’m told, evolved in certain affluent areas of London into people thrusting £20 notes at the figures on their doorsteps. This is not because the homeowner feels threatened-it’s to save the children’s teeth.

Alf’s been invited to a Halloween party-his first. He’ll probably adore the costume and games and he’ll definitely enjoy the treats. And it’s unfair not to let him stick his face in a bucket of water just because I’ve adopted this bah-humbug approach. And at least there’ll be a bonfire. Bonfire night, now that’s a nice straightforward festival Traitor, martyr-who cares? Sparklers and fireworks.

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