The creeping menace of Americanised Halloween is frightening

Donald Clarke: We began dressing up as monsters. Now it’s a Vegas Elvis or saucy flight attendant

Hey, what’s your Halloween Twitter handle? I bet it’s spooktacular! If you’re called Harry you might like to change it to “Scary”. If I were named Hector I’d go for “Spectre”. Ha ha! Who are you going as? I did a good Mad-Eye Moody in 2014, but I think I’m going as a sexy nurse this year. That or Deadpool. I can’t wait to see what my girlfriend has planned. Or do I mean ghoul-friend? Ha ha! Sorry, I think I’ve overdone the boos. Get it? Because ghosts say “boo” and…

Shut up! It’s been a few years since I gave out about the creeping menace of Americanised Halloween, but the time has come to again highlight its mind-sapping tyranny.

In a dark room in an obscure building there sits an oak table around which representatives of the Deep State gather to decide what season begins when. At some point in the last five years or so this body determined that the current imperial swindle begins on October 1st. Orange and black favours are hung in every supermarket. Disused shop fronts become pop-up “Halloween stores”. Luke Ruddy becomes “Spook Bloody” on Twitter.

There have been few more egregious examples of American capitalism at its most unconsciously cynical. There was no calculated plot to take a Celtic creation, sentimentalise it, monetise it and flog it back to the people who invented it, but that is nonetheless what has happened.


You won’t need to be told that Samhain began with long-bearded Irish, Scottish and Manx ancients slaughtering goats to appease the faeries (or something else I can’t be bothered to look up). The Americans knew little about this precursor of Halloween until waves of Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived in the 19th century. It took another 100 years or so before that nation – as it always does – discovered ways of making money from the phenomenon.

They also used it as a vehicle for indoctrinating children into the capitalist project. It's not enough for the young ones to dress up as The Mummy or Herman Munster. They are also required to tour the neighbourhood threatening to egg the greenhouse unless they are given "treats". Hey, protection rackets are as American as apple pie and type-2 diabetes. Al Capone and Carlo Gambino were also part of the US experiment.

Whole pumpkin

Tracing its routes back to ancient Irish traditions, the American version of trick-or-treat has only been popular here for a few decades. The adoption of other US bastardisations is more recent still. It is no exaggeration to say that I did not set eyes on a whole pumpkin for the first 20 years of my life.

I can remember looking cross-eyed at a Los Angeleno in the mid-1990s when, on my holidays during mid-October, I was asked who I was “going as” this year. The American habit of dressing up for Halloween gave us a welcome opportunity to patronise them as a decent, but essentially childish, people. They won in the end. We began dressing up as monsters. We then adopted their habit of dressing up as anybody or anything. Hey, it’s All Hallows’ Eve. Time to parade the streets in the guise of Vegas Elvis or a saucy flight attendant.

The change is, if anything, more marked in England. For centuries that time of year was primarily associated with the ritual immolation of Roman Catholic freedom fighters. Now poor old Guy Fawkes serves as a mere aftermath to the American recycling of an Irish celebration.

That Pyrrhic victory can’t quite compensate for the spineless surrender to transatlantic values. Look, I understand that the old Halloween was a bit crummy. It’s hard work to carve a Jack-o’-Lantern from a turnip rather than a soft-fleshed pumpkin, and the result is about a quarter the size. The young me would happily have accepted a sack full of Crunchies to dress up as Count Dracula. But it was our crummy festival. We weren’t kowtowing to anybody.

The very crumminess of it – its smallness, its homemade nature – allowed in a residual shiver of genuine unease. There was always a chance of a sparkler setting fire to your entirely synthetic wardrobe.

‘Join in’

Most importantly, there was less pressure for everyone, everywhere to “join in”. The cult of The Joiner is one of the great evils of contemporary life. Every TV talent show has a Halloween special. Everybody is expected to laugh at the funny names on Twitter. Only spoilsports whinge about the imported adoption of black and orange at every point of sale.

It happens all year round. Every aspect of life – religion, musical taste, sexual orientation, video game enthusiasm – now generates its own “community”. If you like something more than a little you’re part of a “fandom”. Joiners, joiners, joiners. Join me out.