When I was a kid Halloween wasn’t an event we marked in any way. Here in the UK we were busy making our guys for the forthcoming Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebrations on 5th November, and hadn’t yet imported the commercialisation of Halloween from the US. So I’m sorry to say, American friends, that your celebration for tonight rather passes me by! That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise its importance to you, but it does seem to me to be a little artificial for it to be ‘celebrated’ here. Of course, I have some treats ready in case I have some little visitors this evening, but this will be my 9th Halloween at my current address and I’ve yet to see any trick or treaters!
As retailers fall over themselves to make money from Halloween the boundaries of taste have often been forgotten. I recently reblogged a post I wrote three years ago about Asda – and to a lesser extent, Tesco – selling costumes that mocked mental illness. The message that these were giving children, that it was somehow acceptable to make fun of people with mental health problems, was appalling, and the retailers had to give in to the outcry and withdraw the products from sale. But, as I mentioned in a more recent post on the stigmatisation of mental health issues, you could still find such costumes for sale this year among the specialist fancy dress retailers. The two I found, with very little effort, were Partypackage Ltd and Wonderlandparty, but no doubt there are others. This is a shameful way to make money, but I guess that as these companies are much smaller than the likes of Asda and Tesco they have managed to slip under the radar. That doesn’t make them any less guilty, in my eyes.
I have no problem with anyone wanting to celebrate Halloween, though I imagine most outside the US would be hard pressed to explain exactly what it is they are celebrating. But as these little posters from the admirable Time To Change organisation remind us, these celebrations have absolutely nothing to do with mocking mental illness.
So please, by all means enjoy any celebrations you may be having this evening, but don’t mock those who are unable to defend themselves against unfair stigmatisation.