Our ‘American’ customs

It’s just about over for another year, but Hallowe’en is an example of British culture which traversed the Atlantic with our forefathers. There are still people who insist that our country was multicultural if not multiracial from the beginning, and that it has no particular connection, ethnically or culturally, to Britain. But when you look at our traditions and customs and even the games that children play, you see many evidences of our British/English origins.

If you’re interested, read here about how children in Victorian Britain celebrated Hallowe’en, such as carving faces on turnips to make ‘turnip lanterns’. In the U.S., pumpkins were substituted for turnips, to make Jack-o-Lanterns, though in some localities in earlier times, children carved lanterns from turnips or other root vegetables.

“Trick-or-treating” seems to have been an American introduction, and according to some sources it didn’t become widespread until mid-20th century, while other sources say it was a custom much earlier, a century or more ago. The origins of it are uncertain but according to this History.com article, it may have been inspired by an Irish custom, with old Celtic Samhain celebrations. However, the British Guy Fawkes customs may have played a part in the development of some American Hallowe’en customs:

“Still another potential trick-or-treating predecessor is the British custom for children to wear masks and carry effigies while begging for pennies on Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night), which commemorates the foiling of the so-called Gunpowder Plot in 1605. On November 5, 1606, Fawkes was executed for his role in the Catholic-led conspiracy to blow up England’s parliament building and remove King James I, a Protestant, from power. On the original Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated immediately after the famous plotter’s execution, communal bonfires, or “bone fires,” were lit to burn effigies and the symbolic “bones” of the Catholic pope. By the early 19th century, children bearing effigies of Fawkes were roaming the streets on the evening of November 5, asking for “a penny for the Guy.” ‘

The Northern Irish seem to be very big on Hallowe’en celebrations. According to this article, the city of Derry is now the ‘best Hallowe’en destination in the world.’

It seems that Hallowe’en as we know it is a product of our British Isles heritage. Apparently other European countries now have some kind of observances of that evening but they seem to have been following American customs, since the media make our culture known just about everywhere. And much of our traditional culture, whether some like to admit it or not, was at its inception an inheritance from the British Isles. Now as we live in this ‘global culture’ via mass media and casual mass migration from one hemisphere to another, we will no doubt see our customs and traditions mutated further, unless we consciously preserve our distinct ways.




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