Exotic customs of dubious merit

20:54, Nov 07 2012

The Halloween-Guy Fawkes season is over . . . mercifully.

It seems rather strange that two of New Zealand's celebrated community-orientated occasions did not actually originate in this country.

Halloween (a contraction of All Hallows Evening) is regarded as an American institution.

Its roots were actually in western Europe and Britain, where it originated as part of the harvest festivals.

Gradually it fell out of favour and it was largely stamped out there by the early 1800s.

However, it became ever more popular in the United States and by the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century it was well ensconced in the national psyche.


Americans have really embraced the dressing up and trick-or-treating and it's undeniable that the day cuts across racial, gender and social divides.

Halloween, celebrated on October 31, has gradually gained a foothold in New Zealand, against the better judgement of many parents anything but eager for their youngsters to dress up and jaunt about the neighbourhood seeking money or goodies off strangers.

An ugly side of Halloween has emerged, with the habit of some children of "egging" houses - throwing raw eggs at houses in which the inhabitants were not generous enough with their goodies. (Or sometimes throwing raw eggs even without visiting the house.)

During Halloween evening last week there were several reported examples around Wellington of houses and cars being "egged", which is hardly in the spirit of community that Halloween is said to promote.

Guy Fawkes is, if anything, an even more bizarre celebration.

It is named after the aforesaid Mr Fawkes (1570-1606), who tried to blow up the British parliament in 1605, in the famous Gunpowder Plot hatched by a group of English Catholics.

Fawkes' scheme was narrowly foiled and he was captured on November 5, a few hours before he planned to set off the explosives he had stockpiled in a cellar under the House of Lords.

Over the next few days, he was questioned and tortured, and eventually confessed.

Immediately before he was to be executed on January 31, 1606, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that had been planned.

Guy Fawkes Day may have begun as a celebration of the foiling of the plot, but these days if it has any symbolism at all - which is dubious - it is probably to honour Mr Fawkes.

Defenders of Guy Fawkes Day talk about the fun every November 5 of watching fireworks and the bonding of communities.

You won't find many in the fire service, police or ambulance services who have good things to say about the day.

They know too well the problems regularly caused by fires and the injuries that can result from fireworks.

Many parents, too, lament the expense of fireworks.

The money that takes them a long time to save is blown away in a matter of moments. What do you think? Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day - tremendous opportunities for the community to come together, or ridiculous wastes of time and money?

Email editor@thewelling tonian with your views.

The Wellingtonian