I was lucky enough recently to spend a few days in New Jersey, before the hurricane hit. The trees were magnificent in their autumn colours. I had forgotten how heartbreakingly beautiful an East Coast autumn can be, all flame red trees and bright blue skies.The town I stayed in (home to a lifetime friend and writer who blogs wonderfully at New Jersey Seoul) was dressed for the season, all orange pumpkins against white clapboard, as New England as you can get.
I then spent two days in the trendiest part of Brooklyn which was, in its own way, dressed for Halloween.
This delighted me, because I would spend the following week, including Halloween, in Normandy. What kind of Halloween could you expect in a rural village that’s about as far away as you can get from a Starbucks in the developed world?
In fact: a very normal Halloween. The houses were dressed for Halloween. There were even pumpkins. I should have known. Which country, after all, did Cinderella come from.
There were few differences. First, it’s for the little children. There’s none of the adult-dressing-up stuff, and none of the wild tricking you get with teenagers in the US. (Although just after I left New Jersey it wasn’t the teenagers, it was Hurricane Sandy that played the worst possible trick, was the Grinch that stole Halloween for a million candy-laden, powerless towns across the midlantic states).
Second, it’s a village-managed event, coordinated and strictly regulated. It happens on a day that’s convenient for the village (it may not even be 31 October!). The children are invited to gather at the Mairie (town hall). They will then progress around the village to collect their candy, politely thanking the householders and closely monitored by a legion of parents who afterwards gather for a reconstituting glass of wine in the village hall.
I was sneaky, I confess. I had brought back from the US a bag of American candy: Taffy and Nerds and Sweet Tarts. What’s this? cried the children, seemingly disgusted. But the basket was nearly emptied, and my children told me that it was the American candy (below right), not the beautiful French candy (below left) that went first as the children gorged themselves afterwards.
Some things remain the same, wherever they happen.