Over the years, my relationship with Halloween has had its ups and downs. My father was Irish and it was a big deal to him. As a child in Boston, he and his friends ran wild with tricks and treats, and they would hoist someone's gate onto his roof if he was nasty to them. My Irish grandmother said that back in the old country, people made jack-o'-lanterns out of turnips and carried them around on a stick. My grandfather believed in fairies (the scary life-sized kind) and to this day people where he grew up do not go near a fairy circle on Halloween night. When the doors are open between the worlds, and it's best to stay home in lighted rooms and give anything they ask to passing strangers....
My mother grew up in rural Louisiana. Halloween was a new and slightly foreign holiday there, américain, as the Cajuns said. She and her brothers rode from house to house on horses asking for treats.
When I was a child, my father would gather us all together about a month before Halloween for the Halloween Council. Fall and the turning of the leaves met Halloween was coming. What anticipation! We carved out pumpkins, decorated the whole house, and spent weeks planning our costumes and doorway. It was a highlight of our year. My grandfather's best friend wired his whole yard so that when children opened the gate, voices came out of the trees and ghosts howled. He dressed as a wizard and reached into a smoking cauldron to bring out the candy.
When I moved to Paris, Halloween was my favorite holiday. I organized a big Halloween party for my kids' French classmates. None of them had ever heard of it. The big kids did not want to come in costume. The little kids were afraid of me when I answered the door in a witch costume and a green face. That first party was the high point, and the children's friends still come up and tell me how much they enjoyed it. In 1998, some commercial organization decided to bring Halloween to France. Suddenly Trocadero was full of the right kind of pumpkins (the first time I ordered Halloween pumpkins from my greengrocer at the marché, he delivered ten completely flat specimens about six inches high and a foot wide). French children were now all learning English and their parents saw this as a cultural experience. For a year or two I had hopes that Halloween would return to its Gaulish roots in France (Astérix and Obélix would have celebrated it, folks--why do you think Toussaint is tomorrow? The Church could not eliminate Halloween from people's minds, so it coopted it by making the day of the dead into a holy day).
For a few years, you could buy Halloween decorations, and some neighborhoods even organized Halloween parties and let kids go trick-or-treating among friends. Stores realized they could make money with this, and decorated their vitrines in orange and black. But things quickly went south. The graft failed.
In 2004 the French Catholic Church conducted a campaign against Halloween, called Holy Win. Of course, Ireland is a far more religious country than France and lives in peace with this fun pagan holiday, but the Church had an enormous asset on its side: the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of the "chattering classes." Rabid anti-clericals rushed in to defend French religious tradition. It didn't help that the one place you could count on a big Halloween celebration was Disneyland. The next year, Halloween was subdued in Paris. You were lucky if you found an orange-and-chocolate display in a pâtisserie. This year, Halloween is gone. I haven't seen a single sign of it in Paris.
All these years of prejudice against Halloween have affected me. I'm tired of defending it as crass commercial American paganism. I have given up the fight.
My father and our wonderful Halloweens are just memories now.