My earliest Halloween memory took place when I was about six. I was at cheder (a kind of Jewish Sunday school), and one of my classmates asked the teacher what kind of costumes good Jews should dress up in for Halloween (I don’t remember the name, or even physical appearance of this guy but I’m still annoyed at what a suck-up he was). The teacher looked at him for a moment, like he’d just asked what kind of pet animals good Jews should kidnap and ritually sacrifice. At the end of that cheder session, the Rabbi who ran the school gathered us all together and told us that participating in Halloween was a form of idol worship, and that God would punish anyone who took part. (I really hope I don’t have any of those teachers as Facebook friends).
Fast forward about fourteen years, my family have converted to a more liberal form of Judaism, and I’m flirting with the idea of becoming a Christian (yeah, I really hope I don’t have any of them as Facebook friends), but I still have a slightly awkward relationship with the concept of Halloween – not because I think it’s going to get me sent to hell, but because I’ve never really understood it. Until I came to St Andrews, I found myself labouring under the misapprehension that it was basically a holiday for kids, an excuse to dress up and eat sweets with your friends rather than… well, an excuse to dress up and drink with your friends. Since nowadays I don’t drink and when I was a kid I didn’t have friends, neither concept particularly appealed to me, but I was especially thrown by just how seriously people take it here in St Andrews.
My first October here was a quick learning curve for a boy from suburban Glasgow, having to become familiar with concepts like “Halloweekend” (you can fit the whole holiday into one evening, guys), and products like Hershey’s (if that’s America’s favourite chocolate then your decision to elect Trump suddenly makes a lot more sense). As everyone who knew me back in First Year could tell you, I was a bit of an arsehole, so I treated the whole thing with the kind of sneering dismissal I treated most social events. The way I saw it, the whole concept was an exercise in childishness, pretty much akin to pre-ing in order to wait for the tooth-fairy – another example of the infantilisation of St Andrean culture by Americans (are you starting to work out why I didn’t have many friends back then?).
But since then, I’ve found that my thinking has evolved a little. Yes, the concept of “Halloweekend”, not to mention putting so much effort into celebrating something you’re not meant to care about unless you’re a child or a parent, is totally ridiculous. But that might not be such a bad thing. After all, ridiculousness is one of the best things St Andrews has going for it. Where else are students encouraged to bond by attacking one another with foam? Where else would elect a Serbian revolutionary in order to fix a housing crisis? Taking Halloween
celebrations up to 11 is not a sign of an American invasion, or an excuse for drunken debauchery, it’s a part of who we are as St Andreans.
So, even if I don’t end up partying this Halloween, I’m not going to judge those who do, but rather honour them for the part they’ve played, however small, in keeping what’s great about this University alive.
Also, to be fair, pre-ing for the tooth-fairy does sound kinda fun.