Friday, November 04, 2022

Halloween today and Bonfire Night 50 years ago

Photo by dieraecherin at

I've given up writing why oh why? posts and columns about the way Halloween has supplanted Bonfire Night as a popular festival during my lifetime.

Partly it's because Bonfire Night was itself formed when anti-Catholic prejudice was grafted on to earlier traditions. And partly because, as I had the sense to write four years ago:

I am reaching the age where you have to be clear whether you are playing an old fogey or have really become one.

Clear with yourself, that is, as well as clear with your readers.

So in looking at a hymn in praise of Trick or Treat by Paul Westmoreland in the Guardian I shall concentrate on something else: his deep-rooted assumption that parents will accompany children on their trick or treating.

If you are looking for modern British Halloween to be a festival of misrule, you are going to be sadly disappointed.

As I wrote in the early days of this blog, things were different 50* years ago: 

At the age of 11 I lived in village (though it had largely been absorbed by the neighbouring New Town) in Hertfordshire. Each year a large bonfire was constructed on the Moor - a local open space - by the residents. I expect the Scouts or someone like that got involved too, because it was an impressive stack with lots of wood in it.

I recall that my group of friends got together and decided what time we would light it on the evening. And we did light it. It seemed perfectly natural to us that boys our age should do it, and presumably no adult was concerned enough at the prospect.

Not only that. Because it was 1971 or so, there was a dustmen's strike and a large refuse heap was piled up near the bonfire. Inevitably, at some point in the evening it was set alight or caught a spark. A fire engine arrived to put it out, and as one of the firemen said: "Sorry lads, but it's too dangerous."

Things aren't what they used to be. Of course they're not. They never were.

But we should be aware that there will be losses as well as gains involved in progress or modernity or whatever you want to call it.

And not every person who mourns the passing of the old ways is being solipsistic or selfish: there can be a sadness that young people are missing out on experiences we had somewhere close to the heart of personal nostalgia.

Is there a lesson here about our failure to understand, and thus have some hope of countering, the motivation of some Brexit supporters? 

* 51 actually, but 50 makes a better headline.


Andrew Kitching said...

I'm definitely fogeyish now, particularly about fireworks. Our cats get very anxious when bangers start going off. The 'season' in Reading now lasts from Devali, through Halloween and bonfire night all the way to New Year. We occasionally get a respite on Remembrance Sunday.

I'd be a supporter of fireworks only being available for organised displays.

nigel hunter said...

My halloween was a total washout ,it never stopped raining.
Bofire night .Our council is not having an organised fire cos of its expense (they say).Also comments that it is not good for the environment (all the smoke etc).Is the fun being taken away from events or is it a sign of the times?