Am I the only person who hates Halloween?
The Queenager : Eleanor's Letter (October 31st 2022)
It comes from the pagan festival Samhain which marked the turn of the year, mourning those we have lost, remembering the dead. But now it's just about sweets and plastic tat
What is it with Halloween? Am I the only person who can’t stand it? The whole thing gives me the creeps and not in the way it’s supposed to… My street is festooned with plastic cobwebs, my daughter is ringing up the plastic tat on my Amazon (I got a message from her from uni this morning: “Mum, bought a few bits for Halloween, hope ok?”). A few bits? She’d spent £30 on black stockings, a fake plastic arm, a white wig and green ribbons… nope, me neither!
Closer to home the shops are awash with fake spiders, £5 pumpkins, multi-pack jumbo bags of e-number-rich garish sweets, plastic costumes, green hair and other horrors. The whole lot will be in the bin by Tuesday and we’ll be picking plastic webs and that ghastly white foam out of the hedge for months. It’s more commercial than Valentine’s Day and seems to go on for longer than Christmas.
When did it all get so out of control? From school finish till midnight on Monday my doorbell will be going as troops of ‘trick or treaters’ (feral brats mainlining Haribos) stand sulkily on the steps demanding more sugar. One year I decided to go all traditional and hand out tangerines or apples instead; I was met with abuse. Not proper tricks or anything, oh no. Not now that even throwing flour or an egg can be met with an ASBO (according to warnings from Suffolk police). Nope Halloween is all sweets and dressing up (and if you are considering putting your pet in ghostly shrouds or bat wings, please don’t. The RSPCA have said it’s cruel, that costumes can impede pet movement and even asphyxiate cats. So just because they’re doing it on Instagram, please don’t try it at home).
I know I sound all bah – humbug. And okay maybe I am. But I have tried. I promise. When my girls were small I’d take their little sticky hands and hoy around the neighbourhood knocking on doors and screeching “trick or treat”. It always ended either in tears or with them being sick, or both. One year we went to St John’s Wood in North London, home to many an American merchant banker. It looked like a film set, the sweets were from Marks and Spencer and the houses decorated by interior designers. My youngest came home with a black bin bag full of candy. It was conspicuous consumption gone mad. It made me think rather wistfully of Halloween in my childhood. I had a black witch hat and we’d get wet hair bobbing for apples. It was a tame warm-up for the real action on bonfire night, the main event, with its leaping flames and frenzied fireworks, massed crowds of people, “Penny for the Guy” and the dark night illuminated with colour as the bangs made you jump. Now it’s all reversed. Most councils have given up bonfires and fireworks as a health and safety risk while Halloween – a commercialised American import (just like Proms at the end of school with stretch limos and ridiculous dresses. Since when did our children feel the need to live inside a tacky American teen movie? Stranger Things writ large in the cities and shires) – flourishes.
There is a deeper point here too. Autumn is a time of shedding. Samhain, the Celtic precursor to Halloween has been celebrated for two thousand years – it marked the harvest’s end and the fallow period where nature dies back and rests. The Roman festival of Ferralia at this time also celebrated the passing of the dead. We bob for apples because this was the time to celebrate Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit. Halloween is an abbreviation of All Hallow’s Een. The evening before November 1st which was All Saints Day in the Christian church (they loved incorporating existing pagan rituals into the calendar). This celebrated the saints, before All Souls Day, November 2nd, which was the official day of commemoration of the faithful departed (in Mexico the Day of the Dead). All over the world from Peru to Poland, this is the time to remember loved ones who have died. A day to go to the graveyard to pay tribute and sit with grief, to make the food that the dead one loved. To talk about them to younger generations. To incorporate the stories of beloved ancestors into the family narrative. To do something in memory of a loved one who has died.
The Halloween hoopla of ghosts and witches is based on this tradition; the sense that at this time of year, as nature itself dies off, the membrane between the living and the dead is at its most permeable. It is a sacred act to mourn those we’ve loved and lost and honour them. To feel their presence as the fecundity of the harvest turns to the chill of winter as the year turns. In the oldest stories autumn is when the gods of fertility return under ground, where the land and life goes fallow, where Ianna sat impaled on a stake in the underworld, waiting, regenerating until spring returns and she springs forth again. It is a moment of celebrating the end of the light before the return of the darkness. It is an important moment in the year. One which our culture with its avoidance of death and its rituals could do well to honour once more. The plastic sweet fest which this once soulful tradition has descended into is a sacrilege to its true meaning and purpose. Rather than wallowing in tat I’d rather our children learnt that death is a part of life, to honour those who have died, to learn their family traditions, to cook the food of memory and listen to ancestral stories. Whether or not you are a Christian and attend Church (it was Pope Gregory who invented All Saint’s Day to annexe these pagan traditions in the sixth century) we all need to remember those have lost. Our modern culture is terrible at death, we hide it away, don’t speak about it, medicalise it. But death is part of life, the idea of death saves us, it is what gives life meaning. Using Halloween rituals to land that message is something that would be worth passing on to our children. Maybe amidst the ghouls and tat on Monday we can remember that.
Wine O clock
Now I’m all for a glass of wine. It is often civilised to mark a moment with friends, or convivially share a good bottle over a delicious dinner. But in recent years the marketing industry has gone crazy in pushing something it calls ‘wine-o-clock’. Fancy a wine’oclock clock – Etsy is awash with them. Go into any card shop and there will be oodles of birthday cards shouting: “It’s always wine o’clock” encouraging boozy behaviour; usually pink, with a high heeled shoe and a joke about Prosecco. You can buy a personalised wine glass your name and ‘wine o’clock’ to stop any guilt that it might be a bit early, or you’ve already had your weekly units…. And mummy bloggers and influencers are awash with posts such as: “Top tips for mums to get through to wine o’clock” or “Rejoice – somewhere in the world it’s 5pm, time for wine o’clock”. It’s become normalised for booze to be ubiquitous, we’re encouraged to be constantly tiddly. Sozzled at teatime? No worries. Wine O Clock.
Now while that might be good news for off licenses it’s not good for our livers. Terrifying new statistics from the British Liver Trust show a 45% increase in liver cancer cases over the last decade, with a 40% increase in deaths. Liver cancer is particularly nasty and fatal and is often not showing up until sufferers get to A&E and discover they are already too far gone to do anything about it. Alcohol intake and being overweight are the two biggest risk factors and baby boomers – those in their 60s and 70s are the most likely to be admitted to hospital for alcohol related diseases.
That doesn’t surprise me. In my own world, I find oldies are the biggest boozers. It’s impossible to go and see older friends or relatives without being offered a pre-lunch snifter (G&T) and wine with lunch. Followed perhaps by a walk or a zizz and then a tumbler full of neat vodka (“martini darling?”) one the yard arm reaches six o clock, followed by more wine. I’ve started to dread it. I just can’t keep up. I’ve always been a pathetic drinker. When I started out as a hack I was a grave disappointment to my colleagues who would head en masse to the pub for a liquid lunch. I remember one restaurant visit (with a now very famous restaurant critic and two older editors) which ran to six bottles of wine. I’m glad to say they are all still alive. But a wine o clock culture coupled with lockdown and sedentary lives spells early demises for many. The science has been clear on this for years. Watch your intake, don’t drink every day. And have at least a month a year off the booze completely. Your liver will thank you for it.
It’s been hard to move over the last couple of weeks without hearing about the menopause and the health inequalities faced by women (most GPs aren’t even trained in the change, despite it affecting 52% of the population). Well another much neglected part of women’s health is the clitoris. According to a fascinating article in the New York Times last (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/17/health/clitoris-sex-doctors-surgery.html) week, this vital organ is “completely ignored by pretty much everyone”. Urologists compare the vulva to a “small town in the Midwest; doctors tend to pass through it barely looking up on their to their destination, the cervix and the uterus which is where the real medical action is”.
But if the vulva as a whole is a little known city in an unknown province, then the clitoris is a totally unmapped suburb. As Dr Rachel Rubin a top urologist put it: “There is no medical community that has taken ownership of the research. In medical school if it got a mention it would be a side note at best”. These days Rubin is the world’s premier clitorologist, and explains that the full clitoris is a deep structure made up largely of erectile tissue that reaches into the pelvis and entirely encircles the vagina. Ignorance about its size and location is harming everyone with a vulva, particularly during operations such as hip surgeries, pelvic mesh procedures and labioplasties (one of the fastest growing cosmetic surgeries worldwide because of the spread of online porn which has made many women have the procedure to reduce the size of their labia majora). The damage to the clitoris and its nerves during these operations due to ignorance about its location and extent is causing many to suffer life-long pain and loss of sexual sensation – particularly the ability to orgasm. Caroline Criado Perez in her brilliant book Invisible Women documents the lack of research into women’s bodies and ailments. It is is high time this was remedied.
For the sake of all of our pleasure, let’s see more research and training of GPs into the location, extent and sensitivity of the clitoris. More bliss has got to be a good result.
By Eleanor Mills
Eleanor Mills is the Founder of Noon.org.uk a platform for women in midlife – this is a version of a column I wrote for the Telegraph last week – thought you might all like it. What do you think about Halloween?? Am I an old grinch or is there some merit in this??