Beyond Halloween and all that

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Of all the trends that sneak their way into our lives, the celebration of a festival like Halloween raises more than one question that rattles our nerves. How has the American festival spread across the world ? There is no single explanation to the spread of the American-origin phenomenon in different cultures.

The celebration of a festival like Halloween raises more than one question that rattles our nerves. Pic – Britannica

Mainstream Anglo-American media is straightaway pointed at for the all publicity to promote their products, fashion brands in clothes, shoes, bags, sunglasses, fast food outlets, and drinks that are placarded on huge billboards in busy town centres – and even the deserts – of underdeveloped countries. Right-thinking folks who bristle at the intrusion of uninvited gate-crashing festivals into their cultural environment put it down to the soft power and manipulation of specific media channels across the world. Fine. Think about fast food like McDonald being so popular among the younger generations. Mashed bowels of cattle raised at industrial level with some artificial colouring, sweet tomato sauce, fat mayonnaise, a slice of onion, all stuffed into a bland round piece of soft bread – that send millions of young adults queuing up for their daily meals at the nearest McDo in town.

Some people may argue that home-made burgers with fresh mashed meat, etc., can be delicious as well as practical and cheap. A country like France, internationally known for its refined cuisine, has the highest number of McDonald outlets in Europe. No simple answer. Forget burgers. Analysts know that the prestige of French cuisine has gone down over the past two decades, as well as all meat-based cuisine for that matter. The trend is half-cooked vegetables, low consumption of sliced meat, natural herbs, no chemical products, no desert at the end of meals. Look to Thailand, Japan, China, Korea and Indian spices and vegetarian tradition. The trend is definitely Asia.

How does Halloween come into the picture ? Why was Harry Potter such an international success by the way ? A world of magic, supernatural skills, innocence, fantasy and dreams where justice and truth prevail at the end. JK Rowling drew inspiration from local legends of fairies, spirits, elves, monsters and witches. These books renewed the love for reading in a whole generation swept away by walkman, game boy, video games, etc., in the late 1990s. Halloween is deeply rooted in ancient Irish Celtic culture, handed down to generations and revived in the American continent. The rest is soft power and efficient marketing.

Just think of the success of American soap operas in the 80s and 90s, Falcon Crest, Dallas and so on, women, namely from the working classes, went crazy over the characters and called their children Jordan, Brandon, Sue Helen and all. However, Halloween is a different matter since year one of its celebration. Religious authorities in the west viewed it as a pagan festival and expressed concern over its popularity in Christian-dominated countries.

At a time when children are treated like princes and princesses, and the cult of youth still holds a grip on the present generation of parents, no wonder due attention is given to a festival that puts children as the sole protagonists on stage. Disguise, sweets, sticks and witches are a bit irritating to us, and should look stupid to cultures with many colourful festivals to look forward to in a year. First, you ignore the children who come to knock at your door and threaten you with the worst calamity if they are not given their share of sweets, and you take care to avoid them in the streets. Over the years folks have started to play the game and give in to the younger ones, though grudgingly. Call it diversity, and be done with it. Others balk at the American cultural product for religious reasons. Like all American cultural exports, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the child-centred festival is here to stay and last.

Indian-origin people in Mauritius may not share the craze for this sort of new festival, neither do most Indians in the subcontinent. Yet it does not go unnoticed. If there is anything that we should question is the trend of aping western fashion over the past twenty years. The stupidity of girls wearing dull black dresses and pants on brown skin, the vulgarity of wearing low-cut blouses and tight trousers, bare shoulders, shorts in public transport in Mauritius, the cult of showing off body parts and so on. A look at Bollywood tells it all. Quite a lot of grist to the mill if you embark on the topic of blind mimicry of foreign habits. Young men behaving like westerners and speaking like them in English-speaking countries is another face of stupid mimicry.

However, the crucial point of uneasiness, embarrassment and concern among the élites in the west is what they view as paganism. And this goes beyond Halloween. What is termed as ‘paganism’ refers to ancient indigenous cultures which celebrated events they related to in their natural and cultural surroundings, and the world of spirits and deities connected to human existence. The advent of monotheism, mainly from 4th century AD, launched a war against pagan festivals and, as of today, the negative portrayal of these indigenous customs and festivals is still alive and kicking.

Halloween is traditionally related to the coming of winter; it is a minor step in the awareness of a bigger sense of consciousness of how humans see themselves in the world around them. Is it a phenomenon of paganism resurfacing after being suppressed for nearly two millennia? What the French call ‘le retour du refoulé’. The bearded powerful and wise male entity looking like a Greek philosopher behind the clouds is too far away for folks to reach out to. Lots of wars have been waged in his name.

There are several dimensions to human existence on earth and the transcendental quest for self-development, the sense of harmony with and gratitude to Nature, to the Earth, to Life itself. A deeper insight into all these aspects, beyond legends, myths, constructed and organized faiths, is going to make people look for answers in Asia, and India in particular.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 4 November 2022

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