Trick or treat
Tonight in half the world a scene was repeated that until very recently would have been almost unimaginable outside Anglo-Saxon countries: Children in costumes, knocking on doors while chanting Trick or treat! According to the media, Halloween, is simply an Anglo-Saxon custom, a less gloomy way of celebrating the traditional All Souls' Day in the Catholic countries. This is not the case.
In fact, Trick or treat has nothing to do neither with the remote traditions that preserve, more or less distorted, the perspective of primitive communism on death, nor with the Roman Manes, nor with the Catholic-medieval cult of death.
Guy Fawkes: from the persecution of English Catholic peasants to the intimidation of Irish workers
Guy Fawkes Day Celebrations in Great Britain
We have to go back to 1605. In that year a group of Catholic nobles is accused of organizing, a plot to assassinate the king and most of the Protestant aristocracy during the opening of Parliament on November 5. It is the famous gunpowder plot which was supposedly intended to bring to an end the great nightmare of the peers of the realm: an uprising of the English peasantry under Catholic banners.
Thereafter, the British aristocracy encouraged the people to commemorate November 5, Guy Fawkes Day... by frightening their Catholic neighbors. It is a matter of turning impunity in the harassment of Catholics into an element of identity... for the ruling class and a part of its exploited. The formula, the original version of Guy Fawkes Day, would be increasingly wielded as a weapon against all kinds of rivals of the former. For example it would be used to repress the supporters of the French Revolution as late as 1791 (accusing them of being papists).
But at that time a new type of Catholic is already appearing which will soon turn become a new category...the Catholics... the new terror of the British ruling classes.
The rapid development of English industry would not have been possible if England had not had a reserve: the numerous and miserable population of Ireland. Among them the Irish had nothing to lose, while in England they had much to gain; and ever since it became known in Ireland that on the east bank of St. George's canal every sturdy man could find assured work and good wages, bands of Irishmen have crossed it every year.
It is estimated that about a million Irish have thus emigrated to England, and that there are still at present about 50,000 immigrants a year. Almost all of them go to the industrial regions and particularly the large cities, constituting in them the lowest class of the population. There are 120,000 poor Irish in London, 40,000 in Manchester, 34,000 in Liverpool, 24,000 in Bristol, 40,000 in Glasgow and 29,000 in Edinburgh.
The condition of the working class in England, Friedrich Engels, 1845
The Irish peasants and artisans would become a massive, precarious and poorly paid part of the British proletariat. Their lack of hygiene, their peasant customs and in general their unhealthy living conditions, even more miserable than those of the native proletarian, separate them from the latter. This was when the Irish ghetto appeared in the main English factory towns.
But when the stock of Irish workers begins to outnumber the masses of proletarianized peasants arriving each year from across the channel, things begin to change. Irish workers began to be accused of organizing strikes and forming workers' societies. And the ruling class began to openly demonstrate anti-Irish racism. Nothing more useful than to encourage anything that pits and separates the good English worker from his lower paid fellow Catholic.
That's when Guy Fawkes Day changed its meaning: some Catholic peasants' houses were still being burned, but at that point urban assaults were beginning to predominate. The rowdies, encouraged and often paid by industrialists, take the opportunity to demand a ransom from the working families of Irish origin in exchange for moving on to the next house and leaving theirs intact: trick or treat.
Anti-Irish racism in the U.S. merges Guy Fawkes and Halloween
When the Irish famine causes a massive wave of emigration to the USA, the Irish arrivals, who were not yet considered white, would suffer all kinds of discrimination. Among them, the sudden revival of Guy Fawkes Day reconverted into intimidating jokes.
Needless to say, it will be other migrants arriving at the same time from Great Britain who would take the lead in distinguishing themselves from the Irish.
The Scots had a really nasty joke where they would rip off a cabbage stalk, smoke it and shove it through the keyhole in someone's door so that when that person came home, they would find a house full of this noxious smelling steam.
Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, Lisa Morton
But in the new country the Irish respond as well. And Halloween night soon becomes something of the great celebration of hooliganism and widespread violence, gradually infecting the whole country until it becomes a law and order problem and local newspapers start campaigns to ban Halloween that encourage neighbors to shoot hooligans.
We advise the public to load their muskets or cannons with stone, salt or buckshot and when trespassers invade your premises at unseemly hours to do mischief, put good and adequate salt and pepper on them so that they may be effectively cured and have no more taste for such things.
Cook County Herald, 1902
As a way to redirect what was becoming an unpleasant tradition, churches began to involve children and teenagers in an organized way in the thirties in a particular version with candy of the original recuperation of the Guy Fawkes Day muggings.
Thus was born Trick or Treat and although it was temporarily lost due to the shortage of sugar during the years of the Second World War, it was recovered, standardized and massified in the 50's throughout the USA.
Turned now into just another business-celebration, that is to say conveniently Santa-ified and definitely merged with Halloween, Guy Fawkes Day survived and the tradition of scaring poor migrant workers was symbolically saved by hiding it under the disguise of a non-existent Celtic tradition.
Halloween or horror
The coexistence and competition of All Souls' Day with a festive and infantilizing Halloween demonstrates in a significant way the way in which the system operates. The Day of the Dead in its different versions is the expression of a basic human need: to face in community the pain caused by the absence of loved ones who died. Beyond the modest business of flower sellers, it is hardly marketable.
Halloween is quite the opposite: an excellent global business and an opportunity for marketing, but completely useless for dealing with any human need that cannot be satisfied by buying candy, costumes, movies, shows or theme parties. It's unlikely that the 2020 Halloween doodle, for example, would help any child deal with the loss of parents, grandparents, relatives or teachers during the height of the pandemic.
Halloween, by making death and absences invisible, by changing collective consolation into individual consumption of festive experiences and infantilizing sensations, contributes to sustain and expand atomization and loneliness. And for the same reason, it feeds the culture of passivity and impotence that allows keeping a war on the front page of almost every newspaper in the world for months without fear of the slightest outbreak of moral horror.
But horror is more than an audiovisual or literary genre. True horror is a system in permanent and increasingly violent antagonism with human life. A human meat grinder that for greater sadism pretends to pass for a never-ending party.
- The origin of "Trick or Treat" is not an ancestral Anglo-Saxon tradition, but the old xenophobic filth of first the British and then the American ruling classes, encouraging the harassment and humiliation of the very migrant workers it exploits.
- Behind the universalization of Halloween there are no Celtic traditions, but movie studios and television channels.
- The substitution of consolation and mourning for a banal consumerist party like Halloween, atomizes, impoverishes and infantilizes us.
- The system wants us to be this way, incapacitated to see that it is the real horror, a system of social organization increasingly antagonistic to human needs and life.