Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or Treat or Traison?

Halloween is having a hard time in France. It only showed up a few years ago, and already it seems that the thrill is gone. It just never really clicked. At first, it was perceived as simply another attempt at American cultural imperialism. “It’s all about making money!” was the complaint I heard most frequently. I tried to point out that there wasn’t a whole lot of money to be made on Halloween, unless you were selling candy, but nobody wanted to listen. Although it's true, at first it certainly seemed that the decorations manufacturers of the world were cleaning up on this one. Even though nobody here seemed to have any idea what Halloween was really about, everyone rushed to decorate their stores, particularly bakers, who slopped orange and black icing on every cake in sight.

But this year, there is not even one pumpkin-shaped Halloween cookie at my local boulangerie. What happened? One friend gave a socio-political explanation: Halloween appeared in France during the Bush administration, which made it a symbol of Bush-ism, and that’s why it was rejected. Now that Obama’s in, Halloween is out. That seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I think it has more to do with the fact that it’s just not a French holiday, and now that the novelty has worn off, nobody cares. Maybe they’re waiting for the next American import. Thanksgiving? Columbus Day?

Living in a bourgeois Parisian suburb, I’ve been informed that there is yet another reason: religion. Practicing Catholics here are grossed out by the paganism of the holiday. All those ghouls and goblins making fun of death on the night before All Saint’s Day! I try to explain that yes, in fact, that’s the whole point, that it is an archaic holiday that is directly linked to All Saint’s Day. According to Wikipedia, Halloween has its origins in an ancient Celtic festival having to do with spirits passing from one world to the next. No one seems to appreciate this explanation. “We don’t celebrate pagan holidays in France,” one neighbor primly informed me. “We celebrate Catholic ones.” So much for the separation of church and state. “What about May 1?” I asked. “Oh, well, that’s different.”

Personally, I much prefer that pagan holidays be celebrated nationally than religious ones. Pagan holidays have the great advantage of being open to one and all and taken seriously by no one. Halloween is fun, after all, and is basically about kids dressing up and eating candy. I mean, come on—what’s not to like?