Sunday, November 4, 2012

Oxford Ghosts and Other Holiday Tales

So this week was Halloween and it has been interesting observing how another culture celebrates a holiday that we also celebrate at home. One observation: every non-American person with whom I've spoken about Halloween has said "You guys invented Halloween, right?" I guess I did realize this, but because of its connection to Dia de los Muertos, I don't think about it as really our holiday, but rather a variation of someone else's.

They do celebrate Halloween here, but it's nowhere near as big as it is in America. For starters, for American college students Halloween is pretty drawn out. Even though Halloween was on a Wednesday this year, the middle of the week, in America Halloweekend was the weekend before Halloween. And then Halloween is also celebrated on the actual day as well. And this usually involved multiple costumes. So clearly Halloween is a big deal in America. Here, most people did go out on Halloween but just that one night, and i would assume people dressed up. Though I couldn't say for sure.

I can't really say about whether or not children trick-or-treat here in England because I don't live in a place where trick-or-treaters would actually go, since it's a college residence hall. But it does seem as though going trick-or-treating isn't a given here like it is in America. I mean, in America nearly every single child goes trick-or-treating (well except the Piper children from the classic Disney movie Halloweentown, which I watched with one of my flatmates last night) but I don't think that's the case here.

They also don't really sell very man Halloween decorations. They were selling pumpkins which they do carve here, although they don't call them Jack O'Lanterns. I said that word to one of my British friends and she laughed good naturedly and then said "What did you call them?" Apparently they just call carved pumpkins pumpkins. Where's the fun in that?

I did speak with a number of people from other countries (France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Japan) about Halloween and most of them said that if their countries celebrated Halloween at all it would be more like the English version than the American.

Maybe I belong here in England, because I've never been especially into Halloween. Okay, that's a lie. When I was a child I loved Halloween because I had (and still have) a major sweet tooth so anything that involved free candy was awesome in my book. But as soon as I was too old for trick-or-treating I pretty much got over Halloween. I don't like scary things, I'm not great as costumes and I don't like to drink or go to big parties, so it doesn't really appeal to me.

We went on a free Ghost Tour of Oxford yesterday where we heard a log of true stories about murders, deaths and executions that took place in Oxford and learned about the legends and ghost stories surrounding these events. More historically based than scary, this type of tour was right up my alley. Its amazing the number of ghosts that have apparently been seen wandering this historic city. After the tour I hung out with some other High Point students for a half hour or so and then retreated to my flat to watch a movie.

The highlight of my Halloween, though? Discovering that what we call apple cider in America is called Cloudy Apple Juice in England. I'd been looking for apple cider all week but here apple cider is an alcoholic drink, so not what I was looking for. My mom brought my mulling spices to mix with apple cider and I've been wanting to use them since she gave them to me. With cloudy apple juice in hand I was able to make hot spiced apple cider for my flatmates which is one of my favorite things about fall.

So, although it wasn't your typical American Halloween, I enjoyed my low key celebration of Autumn.

There are a number of other traditions in the weeks following Halloween as well I don't know if this might have something to do with the lack of widespread adoption of Halloween here in England, but it might explain it.

Yesterday was Guy Fawkes Day, also called Bonfire Night. Although the actual holiday is November 5th (it has historical significance which I'll explain in a moment) it seems as though most of the celebrations were yesterday since the 5th is a Monday. Guy Fawkes was the main conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot of 1606 when he planted gunpowder in the basement of the houses of Parliament for the purpose of blowing up Parliament, the King and everyone else involved in the government so that the Catholic Spanish could take control. Luckily, he was caught before he succeeded and was sentenced to death.

Ever heard the saying "Remember, remember the 5th of November. The gunpowder treason and plot"? That's about Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament. So, every year they celebrate this failed attempt by setting off fireworks, have parties and celebrations and throwing effigies of Guy Fawkes into a roaring bonfire. I'll tell you more about my Guy Fawkes experience later.

The final tradition that is coming up soon is Remembrance Day on November 11th. Held that same day as America's veterans day it is in honor of the end of World War I. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the hostilities of war formally ended. Here in England they take Remembrance Day, also called Armistice Day and Poppy Day very seriously.

In honor of all those who lost their life in the line of duty, red remembrance poppies are worn. This is because of the red poppies blooming on many World War I battlefields. Red poppies have been popping up on lapels for the past few days. When I was in London, you couldn't go anywhere without seeing them sold at pub counters, attraction entryways and more, so I have one that I've been wearing on my peacoat. I have seen a number of people wearing them around Oxford (including one of my professors) but I haven't really seen a place to get one. Maybe they started in London last weekend and it just takes a few days for the poppies to reach Oxford.  There will also be a two minutes silence at 11am, recognized all over Great Britain.

I really like that they take this so seriously here. I don't think very many people even notice it's Veteran's Day in America because there aren't very many traditions associated with it that the general public partakes in. Those who lost their lives in war defended our freedom and safety deserve to be recognized and I wish there was more of celebration of their sacrifice in America. Though this is coming from the girl who tears up at baseball games when they play I'm Proud to Be an American and service men and women stand up, so I guess it's not surprising that I feel this way. Anyway, I like the sentiment behind Poppy Day and expect to see more and more poppies around Oxford as it gets close.

One of the things I've loved about being in Oxford is experiencing their traditions that are different from America or just unique to the UK and the beginning of November is rife in opportunities.


  1. Apple cider is one of my favorite fall drinks too!
    I think it's super interesting about how they celebrate Halloween over there! i had class halloween night so once I got done, I watched the first HP movie on TV with some friends- haha pretty low key
    I like all the respect they give for Poppy Day!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for commenting Theresa! It's nice to know that people are reading and enjoying :) Sounds like a fun Halloween! Also, if you'd to read some of Caitlin's blog, it can be found here: I figured that you didn't have the URL and thought you might like it! :)

    Cheers, Amy,

  3. Thanks! I will definitely check out Caitlin's blog too! :)