How America handles Halloween is very different to the Irish way.
Actually, I can only speak for the New Englanders because it may well be different again in the Mid West or over in California. I know for example that they just don’t do Halloween in the south of Spain. We went down to Marbella this time three years ago only to discover that it was just another day. The children still haven’t forgiven us. There was no fancy dress party, no trick or treating, no half-deranged adults dishing out mucho candy. Well, if we goofed (or got incredibly lucky) that year, we are definitely making up for it now.
Here in the USA, Halloween is taken to a whole new level. The house decorating starts at the beginning of the month because you need to get an early start to get everything done. Entire gardens are transformed into graveyards, enormous spiders hang from all conceivable hooks and gallows and every third or fourth garden has a good old fashioned hanging (of a pretend variety obviously!). The primary component for most homes is oceans of white (or bright green) artificial spider’s web. It spreads easily over bushes and trees. I’ve even seen one home where they covered the entire façade of the two story house in webbing. The result – well the neighbourhood looks a bit like a Hollywood set but its great fun and the kids really love it. (And we are doing this for the kids – right?)
The trick or Treating is also a bit crazy. Last year the girls came back with what would equate to two shopping bags of candy. I went out with the younger two and we just did a few neighbourhood houses but I saw something last year that I had never seen before - ‘honesty baskets’. This is used when the residents of the house you’re visiting have gone out too (presumably trick and treating) and so they leave a large basket of sweets on their porch. You’re meant to take one or two bars and move on… Now, is it me? Do I just have a bad streak, because the urge to take the whole bloody basket and run was almost too strong to resist. I probably would have swiped the lot only my kids would have told on me. So we just took a few bits and continued on our trek. It was lovely to meet all the neighbours and ridiculously warm. Have I told you that Boston is on the same latitude as Rome and so far this autumn has been glorious? It’s 24C/76F as I write. (To my US readers – that would be a heatwave in Ireland!)
We also have an extremely popular neighbour, more popular than any sports celebrity or movie star (well, the movie stars all live in California anyway). He’s the guy who started Tootsie Rolls. I don’t think we actually have them in Ireland so I’ll tell you they are to the US what Tayto Crisps is to Ireland – part of the fabric of the society. It’s a bit like living a few doors down from Santa. Anyway this guy has taken a view on Halloween and he gives out tons and tons of candy that night. He literally brings a Tootsie Roll truck home for the weekend. The thing is, word has got out. Last year two cop cars and a passing zombie were commissioned to coordinate traffic, pedestrians and marauding werewolves. It was utterly mad and enormous fun.
So needless to say by the first of November last year, I was a bit worried about the volume of candy in the house and thats when I heard about a new tradition. He’s called ‘The Changeling’ and he visits your house a few nights after Halloween. The idea is that the child leaves all the candy they still have left (and the parents haven’t consumed) in a large bag out on the porch. With it, they leave a note telling The Changeling what they will take in exchange for the candy. It could be a new set of roller skates or a play station – anything but candy. That’s the theory. This way your darling little angel doesn’t actually have to consume all the sugar he or she got on Halloween night. My first reaction was who is taking who for a ride here? I mean Santa seems to have gone utterly mad in the last two decades with his generosity. I gather Chanukah is just as ‘good’ to the kids and now the Easter Bunny (who wasn’t even born when I was a kid) is in on the act and here comes a new guy - the changeling. I’m thinking of writing him a note and saying - thanks but no thanks unless of course he would take the candy and change it for a nice new handbag….Happy Halloween!
PS. One Halloween tradition that the great ol’ US of A doesn’t have and I really miss is Barn Brack. What I would give for a bite right now with some real Irish butter. Have a slice for me!