If anything highlights the major difference between Americans and Brits it’s probably their approach to holidays. Americans are gung-ho at the chance of spending money on cards, candy, costumes, decorations, lights, plastic, tinsel, green beer, leprechauns etc. They are the ultimate holiday consumers. Brits, on the other hand, tend to think of this as a bit tacky and don’t really get into the spirit of many holidays, apart from a grudging reluctance to acknowledge Christmas. Even their famous bank holidays (and there are a few of these sprinkled throughout the year, in which people get the day off work) are just known as bank holidays. Heaven knows what these holidays are meant to signify, because no one appears to know. In America you always know whether you have the day off because it’s a president’s birthday or the 4th of July.
And so I come to Halloween, the holiday we celebrated yesterday in all its ghoulish glory. Since I have two children I have no excuse but to embrace October 31 and spend a ton of money on what amounts to getting some candy from strangers. The kids have loved the opportunity to put on their costumes no fewer than about four times for various parties, carnivals and festivals. When I was a child we just trudged around the neighborhood with pillowcases. This tradition has been transformed in the 30 years since I was a small child – people now have parties outside their house, deck out their lawns and hand out masses of candies to kids carrying plastic jack-o-lanterns bought at Target. I have no idea how much this business is worth, but I’m guessing that millions is spent on it – and this is in the middle of what is supposed to be the biggest recession the country has ever faced.
It’s not just the kids who get into the spirit. I know of quite a few adults who revel in the chance to throw parties while dressed as Dracula. Many of them just use it as an excuse to get drunk. My cynical brother, who really should have been born in another country, explains it this way: ‘Who needs an excuse? Everyone should just go to a bar, get drunk and then throw up on the street. Why the f##k do you need to put on a costume?’ He would rather be caught fondling a farm animal than be dressed as one.
And this brings me neatly to the pets. Let’s not forget man’s best friend on this special occasion. I simply cannot believe how many people now buy their pets a costume for Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think this is cute, but it’s also slightly unsettling. Do we really need to see Fifi the poodle sitting atop her throne (a child’s decorated stroller) wearing a dog tiara? I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
I think back to the dark days of London – when Halloween passed by largely unnoticed – and I wonder what my British friends would make of it all. They would probably shake their heads and exclaim in wonder, ‘Only in America.’ Maybe so, but I’ll tell you one thing: I love Americans for their unbridled enthusiasm, for their love of the tacky, for their acceptance of the total craziness of it all. Sometimes what you need is to put on a ridiculous mask, eat some disgusting, artificially flavored candy corn and forget all about obesity and bad teeth.
My children got home last night and looked over their candy in enormous, gleeful satisfaction. In London they would have been lucky to get even a third of that. In fact, I doubt very much whether they would have got anything – most people don’t understand the concept of trick-or-treating. Perhaps it’s because many houses in London have been converted into flats. Who is going trek all the way down three flights of stairs to hand out a lollipop?
The Brits have some things undeniably better – I love their cozy pubs, their gorgeous parks and their healthy attitude to time off. But I’d like them to let their hair down for some ‘American’ holidays, even if it means dressing like Rapunzel to do it.