Why is Britain so scared of Halloween?
Concerned Christians, police with helmet-cams, greens monitoring our pumpkin waste… some scary figures will be out in force this week.
Note to the British authorities: Halloween is not actually meant to be scary.
The toddlers and teens dressed up as witches, ghouls or as the knife-wielding killer with the Edvard Munch-style face from the slasher Scream movies are not really a threat to life as we know it, and trick-or-treating is just a bit of door-to-door fun rather than an effort to terrify the nation and convert us all to the dark side. The monsters are not real, the aura of ‘evil’ is shortlived, and the sinister-looking pumpkins will have become soup or recycled rubbish by 1 November. So, chill out.
In the past, it was generally only dogs and children under the age of 3 who took fright at the sight of ghosts and egg-wielding ‘yoofs’ roaming the streets on 31 October. Now the authorities seem scared witless by Halloween. In preparation for the pseudo-evil shenanigans that will take place this week, British police forces, local councils and charities are issuing warnings about the dangers of Halloween as if they really are expecting an army of zombies to rise from their graves and conquer the country.
Scared of the kids
Remember when trick-or-treating was looked upon as a bit of fun, or at worst a bit of mischief? Now it is branded Anti-Social Behaviour, and the children who carry it out are referred to as ‘Halloween hellraisers’ (1). Police forces around Britain are supplying households with posters warning children not to knock on their doors. A poster distributed in the London borough of Barnet by the Metropolitan Police and the Evangelical Churches of Barnet (an unholy alliance if ever there was one) says: ‘SORRY! No Trick Or Treat…. Trick or treat causes DANGER to the children who are often unsupervised; DAMAGE to other people’s property; and DISTRESS to the elderly and vulnerable.’
A poster produced by West Mercia police in Shropshire says: ‘Sorry, No Trick or Treat. Thank Yooooou!’ West Mercia police have warned local kids ‘Don’t be a rotter this Halloween’. They urged ‘all wannabe Harry Potters, witches, ghosts and devils’ to avoid cold-calling at people’s homes (er, isn’t that the point of trick or treating?) because doing so can cause ‘fear, harassment, alarm and distress’ (2).
Other police forces have put pressure on retailers to stop selling eggs and flour to under-18s in the run-up to Halloween, since some youths use these lethal weapons to pelt the homes of people who refuse to give them a treat. So everyday foodstuffs will now join knives, cigarettes, alcohol and porn in the list of things that must not be sold to youth.
The Halloween panic captures modern Britain’s view of children as both threatening and super-vulnerable, as both ‘rotters’ who must be controlled and potential victims who must be prevented from knocking on strangers’ doors. Youthful exuberance is relabelled ‘anti-social behaviour’; and that kindly old phrase that was used to describe mischievous children – ‘little monsters’ – has been replaced with the not-so-kindly (ie, serious) phrase ‘Halloween hellraisers’. The authorities are effectively saying: ‘We’re scared of kids, and scared for them.’ And that’s a really scary, and confusing, message to transmit to the next generation.
One reason why Halloween gives the powers-that-be the heebie-jeebies is because it involves people getting out in the open unsupervised. We can’t have that. So police forces are introducing Halloween-appropriate authoritarian measures to keep an eye on the monsters, zombies and freaks traipsing through the streets.
In North Wiltshire, police will wear special ‘head cams’ – video cameras attached to their helmets – to record anti-social behaviour. ‘We hope they will act as a deterrent as well as an excellent evidence-gathering tool’, said a Wiltshire-based Inspector (3). In short? The cops in Wiltshire will wear weird costumes that really are designed to frighten the local population. In Lancashire, four dedicated control rooms have been set up by the police to monitor CCTV footage on 31 October. The Lancashire police say that they will issue on-the-spot fines of £80 to anyone under the age of 18 found in possession of a firework or other potentially dangerous items (eggs and flour, perhaps?) (4).
The authorities’ plans for Halloween reveal their profound distrust for the public – and their absolutely cavalier attitude to introducing new forms of spying and petty punishment. A spokesman for London mayor Ken Livingstone once said that New Year’s Eve is not so much a public holiday as a ‘public order problem’. Now even Halloween – a children-oriented evening event, which in Britain has always been a pale imitation of the bigger celebrations in the US – is looked upon as a ‘public order problem’ that requires stern posters in house and shop windows, spycams on street corners and coppers’ helmets, and fines for anyone who gets a bit too frightening.
Bizarre battle of ideas
One of the weirder Halloween scares is the idea that it will warp children’s minds and turn them on to the occult. The Bishop of Bolton, the Right Reverent David Gillett, has called on retail outlets to think twice about stocking paganistic costumes because, he says, they ‘trivialise the reality of evil’: ‘[O]ccult practices should not be condoned, however light-heartedly.’ (5) The UK Evangelical Alliance, which represents evangelical Christians, warns that ‘while Halloween [appears] to bring people together in fun, in reality it is a celebration of the dead and of evil’ (6). Echoing earlier concerns about Harry Potter books turning kids into occult-worshipping wizard-wannabes, the evangelists believes there is a ‘real darkness to Halloween’ which is ‘potentially dangerous’ for children (7).
A report in The Times captured the absurdity of this battle between ‘light and darkness’: ‘On one side are concerned churchgoers – on the other, grisly battalions of rubber masks, fake fangs, ersatz blood, plastic scythes and racks of garish costumes.’ (8) When even Halloween, a silly, plastic, throwaway holiday, makes bishops and Christians fret and sweat about losing young people to ‘the other side’, you know that mainstream religion is in a bad state in Britain. Here, the authorities’ own doubt about how to enthuse or inspire the next generation gives rise to mad fears about children becoming witches for real.
And of course, no public holiday is complete these days without lectures from on high about how wasteful we are. Apparently, we consume too much on Halloween, leaving a carbon devil’s hoofprint in our wake. Some local councillors are worried that the million-plus pumpkins sold at Halloween will clog up landfill sites, where they ‘break down without oxygen and create methane, a potent greenhouse gas’ (9).
The UK Energy Savings alliance has issued advice on how to celebrate ‘Hallowgreen’: make your kids costumes from second-hand clothes; only give out sweets that don’t come with packaging to trick-or-treaters; and give your own children a re-useable container for trick-or-treating, such as a ‘cloth bag, decorated lunch box or upside-down hat’ (10). There’s nothing like a bit of patronising advice about the green’n’careful way to do things to inject a bit of spirit into a minor kind-of holiday.
Here’s a scary story for this year’s Halloween: The British authorities are so petrified of young people (and by association their unthinking parents) that they plan to film, fine and in other ways punish the ghouls dragging through the streets on Wednesday, while old religionists think we might all turn into blood-sucking Satanists and new green religionists chastise us for being earth-sucking consumerists. Who needs to dress up as a mass murderer when our alleged everyday depravity is enough to put the fear of god into our killjoy rulers?
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here.
Jeff Nicolich said Americans were scared silly about Halloween. Jonathan Calder reported on the fight to keep the Lewes bonfire burning. Ray Crowley reported on a special sex educational Halloween house. Rob Lyons told us not to panic over Halloween horrors. Or read more at Parents and kids.
(1) Police crackdown on Halloween hellraisers, This Is Lancashire, 28 October 2007
(2) Don’t be a rotter this Halloween, West Mercia Constabulary, October 2007
(3) Camera cops on Halloween patrol, Wiltshire Gazette, 26 October 2007
(4) Police crackdown on Halloween hellraisers, This Is Lancashire, 28 October 2007
(5) Peering behind the Halloween mask, The Times, 27 October 2007
(6) Death to Halloween, This Is Aberdeen, 22 October 2007
(7) Death to Halloween, This Is Aberdeen, 22 October 2007
(8) Peering behind the Halloween mask, The Times, 27 October 2007
(9) Pumpkin treats for a green Halloween, Norwich Evening News, 29 October 2007