It’s Halloween. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear the familiar annual sound of shrieking and groaning – not of witches and ghosts but of liberals whining about the horror of commercialism. Frightening spend on Halloween, read a Guardian headline a few weeks ago. Supermarkets are cashing in on the festival, the article explained, and taking about 10 times what they did five years ago.
Instead of complaining about its commercial aspect, we should be glad that Halloween is booming. It’s part of a wider trend: British culture has, in the last decade or so, woken up to the value of festivals. We are hungry for moments of shared meaning. We have begun to realise that we are a festival-impoverished culture. We only have a few shared cultural moments, fixed in the calendar. Apart from Christmas, what is there? Easter is a non-event for most of us. Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night is still fun, but the meaning is vague (it should be reinvented as British Freedom Day). Valentine’s Day pleases smug and cheesy couples. And that’s about it. (It’s because we are so festival-impoverished that we get so over-excited about national sport, which can only partly satisfy our urge to unite in celebration. It doesn’t produce reliable occasions for joy, to put it mildly.)
So Halloween is the second best festival we have