Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween: harmless fun or a growing menace?

Halloween is once again upon us, a festival dating back hundreds of years. But while many people enjoy this annual event, it is a celebration which many others now dread.


Halloween is observed in a number of countries on the 31st of October. The true origins are still one of debate, but there are indications that the festivities were connected to the end of the harvest and to pay homage to the souls of the dead with the lighting of candles and taking part in eating, drinking and games.

Many people might think the idea of Trick or Treat is a modern or even American import. However the roots of such activity can be traced back several centuries to places in Ireland and Scotland. In parts of southern Scotland a man dressed as a Láir Bhán [white mare] led youths house-to-house reciting verses, some of which had pagan overtones, in exchange for food. If the household donated food it could expect good fortune from the 'Muck Olla'. Not doing so would bring misfortune. The wearing of costumes at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century, as did the custom of playing pranks.

The festival is closely associated with Christian celebrations. According to some scholars, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots.

Modern day festivities

However, today Halloween is associated with guising, ghouls, ghosts, Trick or Treat and of playing pranks. But rather than paying homage to the dead, most Halloween celebrations are focused on dark, sinister and murderous imagery.

Television schedules will be filled with tales of horror, and films such as John Carpenter's Halloween are dug up for a repeated showing.

Those taking to dressing up for Halloween no longer adorn traditional costumes depicting ghosts, witches or werewolves. Instead one is more likely to encounter people replicating characters from horror films from the last two decades such as the Scream, Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. More recently zombies have become popular due to the growing number of movies which began with George A. Romero's 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead.

Commercial overload

As the 31st of October approaches shops are filled with merchandise. From the humble pumpkin to aisles full of witches hats, broomsticks and spray on cobwebs, one can't walk more than a few metres around a supermarket without being reminded the witching hour is upon us.

The sweet aisle is overloaded with special Halloween candy for the obligatory Trick or Treat adventures. As we stroll past the fruit and veg we are reminded to buy apples for Apple Bobbing and as one passes the bakery we are thrust into a land of Halloween cakes, donuts and other ghoulish confectionery.

Trick or Treat

For kids, Halloween is perhaps harmless fun. There is the joy of dressing up as a witch, ghost or skeleton before engaging in party games. Some may even join their parents and knock at their neighbours in a game of Trick or Treat.

But Halloween is becoming increasingly sinister as older children and youths harass householders and play pranks that could be considered anti-social or even criminal.

Egg throwing has become such a problem in some areas around the time of Halloween that some supermarkets ban their sale to young people.

Intimidation and dangers

Police say the tradition of "Trick or Treating" has resulted in many people having eggs thrown at them and their property. Anyone on the receiving end can feel intimidated, but the elderly can feel particularly threatened [BBC].

The practice can also prove to be dangerous. Throwing eggs at moving vehicles can be extremely dangerous as it could cause drivers to lose concentration and have an accident.

Aside of the risk to life, throwing eggs at vehicles can cause thousands of pounds of damage. Damage might be minor with just a mirror being broken. However damage can be much worse. Protein in the egg can damage the paint surface and may result in the car needing a respray. For high end cars the cost could run into thousands of pounds [ / Popular Mechanics].

Eggs can even break windows, especially when the vehicle is travelling at speed, and can dent a body panel or chip paint where the shell breaks.

There have also been isolated incidents where people have lost their sight. A nurse was blinded in one eye when an egg was thrown at her from a passing car in March 2008 in Dublin [Irish Independent]. And in 2005 a boy in Long Island also lost sight in one eye after teenagers from a local high school threw eggs out of a passing car during Halloween.

In the US Halloween pranks are becoming more and more extreme with the cost to property owners and motorists running into millions of dollars.

Violent attacks

But more disturbingly this year has seen violent attacks in the run up to Halloween with people dressed as clowns attacking passers-by on the streets of France [Telegraph / Guardian].

And in recent days there have been reports that the chilling pranks have also spread through US and Britain as Halloween approaches.

"Evil" tradition

It is perhaps no wonder that some people are fed up with the annual Halloween festival and have even called for it to be banned [CBN]. It's a debate that has gone on for at least a decade [BBC]. Indeed the Vatican has called the event "evil" [Daily Mail].

However there would be no easy way to enforce such a ban, only mitigate potential property damage through restrictions of the sale of certain products, increasing police patrols and informing people of the consequences of anti-social behaviour.

The Daily Mirror suggests there are several reasons why we should keep Halloween. The paper claims that aside from its ancient origins, people "love to be scared". Try telling that to a French passer-by who was recently accosted by an axe waving clown as she got out of her car in the Avenue François Trinquand in Chelles, on the eastern outskirts of Paris.

The Mirror describes describes Trick or Treat as "a wonderful neighbourhood activity in some areas". Some areas, maybe. But for a great many people, the time of Halloween is one of foreboding and an unwanted aftermath of clearing up egg splattered cars, houses or worse.

"Bottom line...It's fun!" the paper finally exclaims. Tell that to the police, insurers, irate motorists cleaning egg from their vehicles or the Dublin nurse who will never experience a 3D showing of Final Destination 5.

Despite all this, most people manage to enjoy the Halloween festival without incident [BBC]. Whatever you do this year on Halloween, try to stay safe, out of trouble and avoid the ghosts, demons and ghouls.

Happy Halloween

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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