Great American Traditions – Why British Traditions May Be Older But Not Necessarily Better
Americans claim to have invented Halloween, and let’s face it, they did. In Britain we have celebrated it for much longer, but in rather a rubbish fashion it has to be admitted. It’s actually an old Pagan festival called Samhain. And like all Pagan festivals, it was long ago hijacked by the Catholic Church. Hence the name Halloween. Short for “All Hallows Eve”, the day before All Saints’ Day
When I was a kid we made Halloween lanterns, but we made them out of turnips instead of pumpkins. They were less than impressive. We also had our equivalent of Trick or Treating. We just called it “Halloweening”. We would knock on doors and essentially demand money rather than candy. We would sing the following little ditty:
“The sky is blue, the grass is green/Have you got a penny for Halloween/If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny’ll do/If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God Bless You”. We’d do this all night and then buy fish and chips with our ill gotten gains. Or Chinese food if we’d done particularly well.
We are very proud of our traditions in Great Britain. We sit smugly berating American tourists, safe in the knowledge that many of our pubs are twice as old as their Constitution. This is unconscionable hubris. Some of our traditions are great – if a little eccentric – but we have to recognize that some of them are not. I have to go as far to say that American equivalents are better, much as it pains me to say so. I’ll start with the most obvious example. Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is a big party in New Orleans with floats, carnival atmosphere, drink, drugs and general hedonism. Scantily clad young ladies wander around feeling very generous and intoxicated. They flash you their breasts for the trophy of a string of tacky glass beads. What are we doing in Britain in the meantime? Well, Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”. What we call Shrove Tuesday, or more commonly Pancake day. While the Yanks are having the mother of all parties, we are making pancakes and eating pancakes and even having pancake races. What a crazy roller coaster of a day that is.
In November, the Americans have Thanksgiving. A sort of dress rehearsal for Christmas. A national holiday, food, camaraderie, and all the heart warming comforts of hearth and home. In Britain, we don’t have an equivalent of Thanksgiving, but we do have an event in the same month. Guy Fawkes’ Night.
This involves standing around bonfires, shivering our tits off and eating half raw baked potatoes. But the fun doesn’t stop there. We also munch on burnt toffee and parkin – whatever the fuck that is – and celebrate executing Catholics by setting off fireworks.
The best American tradition has to be Summer Camp. Middle class America sends it’s offspring miles into the countryside to enjoy weeks of canoeing, sport, survival training and dubious crafts. Granted, it’s all a bit cheesy, but the point is that the parents don’t have to put up with their bored little brats for six weeks. And the kids get to actually miss their parents and possibly even appreciate some of the things their old folks do for them. Our answer to this is to let our offspring roam the street like packs of feral dogs
If you are British and are still sceptical about American traditions being better, three words for you. Fucking Morris Dancing.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013