Over the past few weeks there have been a couple of events, celebrations if you must, that I've found myself feeling uncomfortable with. Prior to having children I'd barely have given these events a second thought but now my eldest has reached an age where she wants to participate in them, I struggle.
The first was halloween. When I was a kid I used to hollow out a pumpkin and stick a candle inside it. That was the limit of the entire thing.
Trick or treating happened but was widely frowned upon in the rural area where I grew up. Shops didn't get decorated to celebrate the occasion and it was unheard of to wish someone a "happy halloween".
I hardly need to point out the world has changed massively in the 40ish years since I was a young boy. It seems that you can't walk into a pub or bar without coming face to face with huge amounts of cotton wool masquerading as a spider's web or find yourself being served in a shop by an awkward-looking shop assistant dressed like a witch with stage make up badly smeared across their face (Asda, I'm looking at you).
Also, where did this idea of wishing someone a "happy halloween" come from? It's just bizarre. Happy about what exactly? Trying to explain the concept to an inquisitive young child is quite a challenge, all the more so when the child in question finds Scooby Doo frightening.
The second event is Guy Fawkes Night. Unlike halloween, this was quite a significant annual event in my life as a child. In some way or other it was marked every single year and I can recall going to some very well organised and large celebrations. I also remember going to an event that was not so well organised at which a stray firework missed my mother's face by a few centimetres and very nearly set her hair on fire. That, however, is another story altogether.
At risk of being labelled a killjoy, I'm really not sure I want my children influenced by either of these events. I just find halloween vacuous and trick or treating, at its worst, simply encourages children to use menaces to demand gifts.
Yes, yes, okay I have noticed that parents often accompany their children and ensure things are kept under control. Even so, when I wake up on 1 November I usually find the streets are covered in broken eggs and flour so it's clear that someone's been getting up to mischief.
As for Guy Fawkes Night, there's no escaping a sectarian element to the whole thing. In this day and age we've kind-of buried this fact but you can't expunge it altogether. I no longer feel comfortable with a celebration that involves burning the effigy of a human being belonging to a minority religious group. Oh all right, I accept Fawkes's motives were questionable but should we really be punishing the guy 400 years later?
Neither of these events bothered me particularly before I became a father. Now I am a father my moral compass has shifted significantly. What was good for me might be good enough for my own kids. On the other hand, I can't help feeling I'm correct to question whether I want my children to acknowledge these two events.
I wrote the above a couple of days ago. Since then I've spent a little time at night watching firework displays out the bedroom window with my eldest child. She was very excited about the whole thing and asked about playing with sparklers. As a result, I've made an uneasy peace with Guy Fawkes night. I have, however, vowed that when she's older, I'll be teaching her exactly what the event signifies. It may even be apositive thing to do as this could be a useful too to teach her about history and tolerance. As for halloween, bah, hum bug. It's pointless and I don't care for it at all.