Halloween used to be my favorite holiday. My absolute favorite. Obsession doesn’t begin to cover it. When I was a kid, it was (captain obv) all about the candy. You see, I grew up in a household where sweets were so scarce I was forced to get up at the crack of dawn and secretly eat all of the sugar-sprinkled raisins from the raisin bran box and then later complain how there weren’t any or, in the dark of the night, steal powdered sugar from the freezer and eat it with a spoon, in bed, in a technique that is both hilarious and far too embarrassing to commit to print.
When Halloween rolled around, it was a major deal. The most major of majors. I dressed up invariably a witch, because HELLO WITCHES, except on odd years when I was a cowboy because HELLO COWBOYS. Maybe the appeal was the fact that both cowboys and witches are mobile, and therefore can hie themselves to some candy whenever they damn well feel like it. And they can both kill people. Can’t deny the appeal of that one, either.
This was back in the day when our friendly neighbor would fill his flatbed with hay and we, the odd-looking children of the area with our missing teeth and jacked-up haircuts that all the fake blood in the world couldn’t disguise, would ride around from distant house to distant house, where people would give us MOUNDS of candy because they knew we were the only children they were likely to get all witchy night long.
My brother and I were classic in our approaches to our sugar-hoards—he parsed his out, piece by piece, over several months, whereas I ate most of mine in about two epically contracted marathons of face-stuffing gluttony, and then spent a lot of time resenting him for still having a stockpile when I had been, once again, reduced to stealing raisins.
Anyhow, Halloween got even better as I got older, because Halloween meant I could legit buy myself an entire shopping cart of Milk Duds and candy corn and everybody would just assume I was some kind, generous, child-loving person and not a deprived sugar-baby who hadn’t quite grown up yet. Halloween also meant parties, and bonfires, and booze, and dressing up as things people never understood.
Random drunk male: “Who are you?”
Me, genuinely shocked it wasn’t obvious. “Come on. I’m Patsy.”
I grab my best friend. We try to look as drunk and high as possible. We do a pretty darn good job, what with our cigarettes and champagne bottles. “You know. Ab Fab.”
Silence. Sips beer. “You still look like a slut to me.”
Best friend, in a whisper: “Let’s get the hell outta here. These people are lame.”
Because there was always another party. It’s one thing I miss about the USA. All those silly parties, with beer pong and truck pools, standing around a barbeque, dressed up like toaster ovens and cereal killers.
And while I do think it’s lame for expats to just point out differences between their home country and their new one like it’s somehow in and of itself a story, ripe with metaphor (“In America, we’ve got hotdogs! In France, they’ve got sausage made out of pig’s buttholes! We are different! And yet the same!”) I do miss all the razzle-dazzle Halloween hubbub.
Nobody really gets Halloween over here. I blame it on two things. First off, capitalism. Because, being good pseudo-socialists who like their Ministers of the Economy to at least PRETEND to have leftist tendencies while he whirls around like a dervish of consumerism, French people are suspicious of Halloween’s popularity in the States. They ignore the beating heart of the matter (we’ll get to their reasons for doing this in a second) and instead focus all their skepticism on the less savory aspects of the fête—buying lots of crap, eating lots of crap, drinking lots of crap, and looking completely unhinged while doing it. Don’t know if y’all heard, but the French are pretty darn good at skepticism.
But I think the second, more deeply rooted hangup is the REAL reason French people are so wary of Halloween. Just like their Minister of Finance, they can pooh-pooh the obvious evil side all they want, but the true issue is LATENT CATHOLICISM. Seriously. I absolutely believe that although the French are all for ignoring dogma with all that extramarital sex and drinking and general shrine-pollution through a heady diet of animal fat and nicotine, there are limits, m’dear, to how far a person can allow themselves to wander from the path.
And a pagan festival to celebrate death and the mysteries of the afterlife? Nuh-uh. Not so much. If you ask them to not only party in the name of witches, but dress up like a toaster while doing it, let me tell you how many French people are going to approach this holiday with unbridled enthusiasm:
The precise number of naturalized US expats there are running around, that’s how many.
Which is why, after not much consideration at all, I’ve decided to throw my own Samhain get-together. My husband thinks I am a. adorable (god bless him) and b. completely off my rocker. If I told him all the things I REALLY want to do, like strew fall leaves all over the living room floor until it’s a deep forest-y carpet, and haul in a few huge dead branches to prop up and hang twinkle lights off of, and bake, like, five different enormous cakes that everybody has to eat with their hands…well, let’s just say that the poor man is very open to my weird tendencies, and I shouldn’t abuse him with them.
Or maybe I should…
Anyhow, we’ll see what happens. For now, I’m gathering inspiration, making a guest list, and compiling a menu. One influenced by the fairy cookbook, the pumpkins that have cropped up all over the market, and the weather. It’s cold and gloomy around these parts. Perfect weather for a candy-fest.