by Catriona McPherson
Now, being a huddled mass, I don’t usually go in for much mine’s-bigger’n-yours/yours’s-better’n-mine when it comes to my two countries. It’s unseemly. I’ve moved to the US and the only thing to say is “Thank you for having me.”
Also, most issues are beyond debate: BBC beats PBS; USPS beats Royal Mail; British cheese doesn’t come in an aerosol can; US plumbing totally rules. (And California just nudges into first place above Scotland when it comes to weather, Mexican food, hummingbirds, watermelon juice, and sequoias.)
But here comes Halloween and I’m up for a friendly debate.
Round 1: turnips or pumpkin
Here in the new world where pumpkins abound, growing in their dozens at every gas station and Dollar Tree from sea to shining sea, little children can make Halloween lanterns with a spare half-hour and a bent spoon.
Back in the old country, where the only pumpkins we ever saw were papier maché and had Cinderella inside on her way to a party, children carve lanterns out of turnips. Swedes. Rutabagas.
Hours of grinding effort, paring away rock-hard flesh a sliver at a time, losing fingers, losing days of school, losing the will to live. And what we ended up with was something that looked like Hannibal Lecter with his mask on.
And smelled like the armpit of his straitjacket after the long journey to Anthrax Island.
Character-building toil and a smelly beige mess, or orange abundance and no work ethic at all. Who wins this one? You tell me.
Round 2: guising vs trick-or-treating
At first glance, guising (literally “going in disguise”) and trick-or-treating sound exactly the same. Little children dress up as Casper or a pirate and bug their neighbours.
But in America all they have to do is ring the doorbell and hold out their hand (and in it an enormous reinforced orange bucket) to be showered with goodies. In Scotland they have to perform. We used to do a dance, sing a song or recite a poem.
These days, I hear they get away with telling a joke. But that threatens to undercut the point of guising. Teenagers are too embarrassed to join in. And so guisers are all small, manageable and grateful for what they’re given. A good thing, since what they’re given, often, is money.
So ritual humiliation in return for hard cash or demanding sugar with menaces. Which is better? Who can say.
Round 3: candy vs fruit
When we weren’t out guising at Halloween in Scotland we were kneeling on the kitchen lino undergoing the water torture known as dooking. Mum filled a tin bath with water and floated apples and monkey nuts in it, then we held our breath, put our hands behind our backs, submerged our heads and tried to get them out again. The nuts were easy; you can Hoover up quite a cache of them even in a little rosebud like mine, but the apples were a challenge, I have to say.
Whether you did it with suction while inhaling water or pushed the apple to the bottom and bit into it while inhaling water, you inhaled a lot of water. If we had known that in other parts of the world wee kids were knocking on people’s doors and being given Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for doing precisely nothing, there might have been a riot.
Snack-sized confectionary by the bucket-load, got by strolling, or apples and peanuts with a side order of your sisters’ saliva, got by choking? I think, in this case, the answer is pretty clear.
Happy Halloween when it comes, everyone.