Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Culture Clashes and This and That

Happy Halloween!

I thought a little Feist singing Graveyard might get us in the mood.

One of my favorite holidays is here and I'm excited to see what ghouls and goblins show up at my door, begging for treats.  My own offspring both left for school this morning dressed in costume. The Sweetpea is rocking the Back to The Future Marty McFly look while the Snugglebunny is the epitome of villainy as Dr. Horrible, crazy goggles and all. It's amazing to see all the little kids (and big ones too) dressed up, roaming the streets, going to school and getting on the subway. My neighborhood goes all out with some of the decorations and displays, even making the local evening news on a regular basis with their smoke machines, ghosts, goblins, graveyards and giant spiders.

I don't have the numbers but I'm sure that Halloween is an "industry" as they say in the financial circles (no they don't--I have no IDEA what they say in those circles since I'm sure I'm banned from them but I can guess) because the whole country celebrates. So, imagine my jingoistic surprise to learn that outside the US and perhaps, North America, Halloween is not really a big deal.  Unless of course, you count China where most of our cheezy costumes and accessories come from.  But as a celebration?  No, not so much.

That made me think of differences that might be mainly due to cultural issues or simple proximity.  Do my friends in Switzerland not dress up and go bang on their neighbors' doors demanding candy because, why exactly? Did we exclude Switzerland from all the benefits of Halloween, even the idea that it originated as a celebration before All Hallow's Eve (Samhain)?  Really, you folks need to get on that right away.  FREE CANDY! I'm just saying.

But you know, sometimes the similarity in cultural norms between completely divergent groups is amazing.  My virtual, pretend BFF and favorite gossip maven, Lainey, reported this item about Benedict Cumberbatch's Crime Thriller win in London where the trophy was a knife. That raised a memory from my own long ago bridal shower.  My friend John, in a touching show of friendship, bought me a gift that showed that he shopped for the present instead of just kicking in some cash and leaving the heavy lifting to the womenfolk.  I know he shopped for it because at the shower, he milled around, waiting for me to get to his gift unlike the rest of the attendees who were boozing it up by that time and feeling like their obligation to watch me open gifts came to an end the minute the mimosas came out. I opened J's gift, gasped and I'm sure my eyes widened.

"What? Do you already have a set?" asked John. "I didn't see them on your registry so I thought you might already have them."

"No. Thank you." I managed to stutter but frankly, I had been shocked because John had bought me a pair of knives.

Beautiful, sharp carving knives, but knives. If my dearly departed grandma had been present, there might have been a little bit more of a scene because she'd taught me, from the time I was a little girl, that you didn't give knives as gifts. Giving knives meant you wanted to sever the friendship or to cut ties with someone or just that it was bad luck.  I heard variations of all three reasons growing up. But was I going to let my own family's superstitions overrule my good sense by hurting my friend's feelings for his thoughtful gift?

I'm happy to say that John and I are still friends, I'm still married to the same groom and I can't think of anything specific or awful that happened as a result of those knives, which I still own.  So, I guess that sometimes superstitions are just that--superstitious.

What family/cultural superstitions do you still hold to or have you found to be ridiculous?  I still can't walk on the street/subway grates and black cats crossing from the left...


Marilyn Brant said...


I love Halloween, too! It's just a fun, oddball sort of day...and I think (especially with all the seriousness in our lives as we get older) that we need that sometimes, maybe even more than the kids do ;).

I've never given knives as a gift, but my husband and I did get a set of good ones for our wedding -- they're great and we still use them!

As for Benedict C.'s award, I'm going to have to check out the link next. I *love* him in "Sherlock"!!

Pamala Knight said...

Hi Marilyn!

It does give us grown ups a chance to be somewhere else for a day, right? We all need fun in our lives.

Hope you and your goblin get LOTS of candy.