31 October 2012

Halloween in Belgium



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Halloween is a quintessentially American holiday. Growing up in America, you are led to believe that it goes back to Ancient Times back in Deepest Darkest England when there were witches and wizards and hobbits everywhere and no one had anything better to do with their time than dress up in scary outfits and ring each other’s door bells. Not so, apparently.

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Halloween started off, as many holidays did, by being a ruse for the Catholic Church to win the hearts and minds of Pagan people (through torture, coercion and force) by hijacking their existing holiday, Samhain. Samhain, (mysteriously pronounced ”Sew’en”), was a traditional time at the end of the harvest where it was thought the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead were at their thinnest, and people would chuck bones into fires and dance about in funny outfits to scare away dead people who were determined to ruin their crops. Then the Catholic Church decided to ruin everyone’s fun by declaring the very next day to be, All Hallows Day (a.k.a. “All Saint’s Day”) so everyone could “celebrate” it by kneeling for hours in a cold church thinking about dead people who’d been turned into statues instead. Then somehow in America all of this got processed and repackaged into “Halloween”, a holiday where kids wear costumes and threaten their neighbors until they are given sugar products.

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When I was 10, I moved to the UK from America and was shocked to find that they had no concept of Halloween there. They had heard of it in American films and whatnot, but no one had, as yet, taken the leap and started participating in it. I bear the proud distinction of having been at the helm of one of the earliest Trick or Treating expeditions staged in London in the last century. Under my tutelage, my friends and I set about ringing doorbells and annoying people with our Dada-esque onslaught. Lots of bewildered people got “tricks” of a colored flour and water mixture smeared on their doors because they hadn’t come forward with the “treats”. Now 30 years later, the Brits act as if they’ve always had Halloween, but I know different.

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Being Brits, they are less enthused with the doorbell ringing, and a lot more delighted with the violent aspects of the holiday, and of course the rest of it has been adopted as yet another reason to get stinking drunk whilst wearing something odd.

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But Belgium? They’re all confused about it. As far as I can tell, unless someone either has kids or is a kid here, they don’t really know or care about Halloween. And yet the odd group of erstwhile Trick or Treaters have been seen in our neighborhood.

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One group showed up on our street in 2006 and last year I thought I heard some of them on the other side of the park. They are very bizarre, even more so because of their scarcity. Should we be ready with “Fun Size” chocolates on the .003% chance that they show up here demanding something? I imagine most of their evening consists of conversations like this:

THE DOORBELL RINGS. AN UNSUSPECTING NEIGHBOR OPENS THE DOOR TO SEE A SMALL GROUP OF CHILDREN AND PRE-TEENS WHO LOOK AS IF THEY’VE JUST COME FROM ART CLASS.

NEIGHBOR: Yes, can I help you?

KIDS: Trick or treat!!

NEIGHBOR: What?

KIDS: Trick or treat!

NEIGHBOR: I don’t understand. Are you selling cookies?

KID: No, you’re supposed to give us sweets!

NEIGHBOR: Why am I supposed to give you sweets?

KID: Because we rang your doorbell and we shouted “Trick or Treat” and we’re wearing costumes.

NEIGHBOR: If you want sweets why don’t you go to a shop?

KID: You’re supposed to give it to us!

NEIGHBOR: Who told you this?

PAUSE

NEIGHBOR: I think you are very rude little children.

KID: If you don’t give us sweets, we will play a trick on you.

NEIGHBOR: What trick?

THE KIDS LOOK AT EACH OTHER, REALIZING THEY’VE NEVER SEEN THAT PART PLAYED OUT IN FILMS.

NEIGHBOR: I think you’ve already played a trick by ringing my doorbell and annoying me, eh?

KIDS: We’re just trying to act like Americans.

NEIGHBOR: Well you’ve succeeded in that. If you have some political statement to make, please do it somewhere else. We are decent people here.

KIDS: OK. Sorry.

NEIGHBOR: That’s OK. Just don’t come back.
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