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David Bouchier: A Few Well Chosen Words

Halloween in a French Village


Whichever way you look at it Halloween is a very strange event. The encyclopedia says that it is an old Druidic ritual, but I don’t know any Druids in our area. They must be hiding behind those masks. Two thousand years ago, back in the old country, before they all migrated to Long Island, the Druids used to celebrate Halloween as the day of Samhain, Lord of Death.

This may have been all very well back in the Celtic twilight of the late Iron Age, before the Plastic Age. But it seems hardly appropriate in the twenty first century, when we consider ourselves so rational and sophisticated. There’s enough material in Halloween for a thousand conferences and a million PhDs in psychology. What dark, repressed Freudian secrets do we see here, suddenly displayed outside ordinary suburban homes – literally skeletons out of the closet?

Since the 1990s some Europeans, have been persuaded to give Halloween a try, thus vastly inflating the profits of those who make orange plastic, bite-sized candy, and dental equipment. It’s all part of the economic process called globalization.

Thirteen years ago we were living in a French village when Halloween was celebrated there for the very first time. How did they go about it? The answer is, very cautiously. If you were willing to give out candy to children on October 31st, you first had first to register at the town hall. Registrants received a free orange balloon to be displayed outside the door on Halloween night. Children (with parents or teachers, but not alone) were allowed to call at houses marked with balloons, only between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. All other visits were forbidden.

The teenagers of the village were told that this was something for little kids, so naturally they despised it. Troupes of excited tots in costume hurried from one marked door to the next, with the local gendarme patrolling sedately behind. There was no noise or vandalism, and villagers who might be old or sick (or just plain misanthropic) were not disturbed by unwanted visitors.

This highly controlled version of Halloween was a modest success, although not very exciting. But older people in the village were still very suspicious of it as something foreign, dangerous and irrational, and the experiment was not repeated.

This year by chance we will be in a different French village on October 31st, and we can’t wait to see what if anything will happen on Thursday night. So far there has been no announcement from the mayor, and we haven’t spotted any pumpkins or witches. Black cats are everywhere, along with cats of every other color, but we don’t think that this represents a significant supernatural phenomenon.

France claims to be a secular, rational country, but it’s not really true. Movies featuring zombies, vampires and boy wizards are as popular here as they are everywhere else, and the big event this week will be All Saints Day on November First, a national holiday to honor the saints and the dead.  So it is possible that Halloween will be celebrated in the dark, spooky streets of the village the night before, on All Hallows’ Eve. But without Jack O’ Lanterns and witches and plastic cobwebs, it’s just not going to happen.

Copyright: David Bouchier

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