October 31 – Beggars' Night and the Halloween “Plague”!

Posted on October 31, 2013

Like a swarm of zombies, Halloween-type holiday traditions have been spreading all over the world. People I talk to on Facebook who live in New Zealand and Australia have been complaining about the contagion... saying that candy manufacturers have deliberately convinced kids in those nations that they, too, should do what kids in American movies and TV shows do: go door to door begging for candy!

Well, of course they should! It is so much fun!

I have also read about Halloween coming to other countries such as France, China, and Indonesia. I'm glad to see that most people seem to welcome the holiday, although there are troubling hints that advertising and commercial interests are major forces behind the spread of Halloween.

I thought I would look at a few variations:

  • Beggars' Night – in some places in the central and eastern regions of the U.S., the night for trick-or-treat (emphasis on the treat) is called Beggars' Night. And many towns publicize that Beggars' Night will be some other date—often October 30, but sometimes earlier or later—other than Halloween, October 31. I think that really enterprising trick-or-treaters could go out three or four nights, getting way more candy—that is, if they can find rides to various nearby towns!

  • Books for Treats – some communities urge people to give out “gently read” children's books as treats. It seemed to me that would be an awfully expensive treat to give out. And I could see some difficulties... Like, do you have to give out age-appropriate books? Still, I love the idea: “Feed kids' minds, not their cavities.”

    So I did some research. First, lots of communities do Books for Treats events during which costumed kids can choose their own books from donated books spread out all over tables. Well, that's splendid! – who doesn't like another event during which kids can wear their costumes?
Second, the author who started the activity, Rebecca Morgan, bought her gently used books at library sales for about a quarter apiece. She sorted the books into four boxes from youngest to oldest, and then she allowed the trick-or-treaters to choose their own books.

  • In Japan and China, Halloween is not really about candy and trick-or-treating; instead, it is about elaborate costumes, costume contests, and of course costume parties.

  • In the Philippines and Singapore, old traditions are being replaced by more Americanized versions of the holiday. People in the Philippines celebrate All Saints Day today, and many people visit their loved ones' graves before the costumes and trick-or-treating begins. In Singapore, the Hungry Ghost Festival still occurs, but Halloween events are becoming more and more popular. The Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, the Spooktacular, and the Museum of Horrors sound like they could be anywhere—but the three I mention here are all happening in Singapore.

  • Saci's Day in Brazil is an attempt to fight back against “cultural imposition” from the United States. Apparently Halloween has become popular, especially with young people. But some people are really mad about that and have suggested fighting holiday with holiday, proposing that October 31 become a celebration of a character from Brazilian folklore, Saci. This prankster has holes in the palms of his hands, wears a red cap, smokes a pipe, and can disappear and reappear through magic.

  • Many people in Latin America celebrate Halloween with costumes, trick-or-treating, and the familiar symbols of witches, skeletons, spider webs, pumpkins, and so forth. There is a push to get rid of the “evil” and “horror” aspects of the holiday and to rename it “Children's Day,” but so far at least these moves have not caught on all that well...

  • People in Europe are celebrating Halloween more and more, since the 1990s. Their new traditions are re-imports from the U.S., since originally many of the traditions grew from older European customs such as turnip lanterns rather than jack-o-lanterns, and “souling” rather than trick-or-treating.

  • Kalan Goanv in Brittany (southern France) – Women honor the dead by pouring milk on the tombstones, and kids play “gruesome” jokes on each other and on cemetery visitors. A common joke is to light a candle placed inside a skull, and to place the “skull-o-lantern” in a darkened corner of the cemetery.

  • Mischief Night in England and North America – In the olden days, Mischief Night was all about pranks. It was soap rubbed on windows and eggs and rotten vegetables thrown at houses and vehicles. It's toilet paper all over the trees and bushes, pumpkins smashed, fireworks set off, and doorbells rung and then quickly abandoned. Of course, some of these “harmless pranks” are actually dangerous to people and property, so law-enforcement generally cracks down on the perpetrators! And volunteers now roam the streets of some U.S. towns with “Angels' Night” shirts, patrolling in order to keep Halloween safe and happy.

Also on this date:

Halloween coincidences

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