When I was a child, Hallowe'en was just another day at the end of October. Nothing special. No ghosts, no ghoulies, just a distant and uncelebrated festival, and a normal night's sleep. I first got a clue that there was more to All Hallows Eve when my family took a holiday in Scotland one October half term when I was tennish. We may have missed all the wee bairns out guising, but the guest house landlady was kind enough to leave me and my brother a candle and an apple each, which was enough to make us wonder what the devil was going on out there.
Nowadays Hallowe'en comes second only to Christmas in a child's expectations. This pagan festival has become commercialised out of all recognition (it would be cheap and easy to blame America for this, so I will). Children start preparing for Spooknight weeks in advance, choosing costumes, stockpiling sugary sweets, making decorations and trivialising death. Maybe it's good for them, even if it's better still for Woolworth's shareholders. But it still seems a funny choice of festival to make light of with the under 10s.
We spend 364 days each year teaching children to keep safe and worrying where the hell they are and then, on the 365th, we tell them that the world is full of evil spirits and they should go out exploring. As long as we can come along too, just to make sure that the scary isn't really dangerous after all. Let's all cut up a giant pumpkin, but only if I'm the one to use the big sharp knife. Why don't we go out trick or treating in the dark, but only in the well-lit parts of the dark. Let's go knock on some strangers' doors, but only if we know them. Wouldn't it be scary to walk through that churchyard, but maybe it would be safer to walk round the edge instead. Off you go and accept lots of sweets off strangers, but we'll check them all for razor blades before we let you eat them. And we'd love you all to dress up as pretty skeletons, but whatever you do please don't end up looking like one. Have a happy Hallowe'en children, because I suspect we adults are far more frightened about the whole thing than any of you.