Like an axe in the skull, there’s one holiday that splits minds: Halloween. Consumer terror or the finest parties and celebration? Americanization by Western civilization or age-old custom? This is a debate about the return of the pumpkin.

It is dark, it is cold, it is the end of October. The last barbecue party was celebrated long ago, the picnic blanket has disappeared deep into the closet, gone are the happy times in which one spends the whole mild evening chatting on the balcony with beer and caipirinhas. There are still several long gloomy weeks before the Christmas comfort of baking cookies, hot mulled wine and family celebrations. Only the flu virus alone has any reason to be happy; the rest of the country is sinking into a fall depression.

But stop! One event fights bravely against the gloom and foul weather: It is Halloween, rescuer of the lost season. The children do not just sit in front of the television, but are armed with spoons and knives, facing pumpkins the size of medicine balls, which they transform into frightening grimaces. The remains, refined with carrots and ginger, yield a warming fall delicacy that has made it into trendy bars of the republic — all thanks to Halloween. Pumpkin soup is in, and most of all, it is healthy.

By the light of pumpkin lanterns the little ones transform into Chucky murderer dolls or one of the bloodless undead and move from house to house. Exercise outside in the fresh air; what could be better? Plus, they learn a little English at the same time: “Trick or treat?” they croak in the evening fog over Germany’s doorsteps. The adults have long since discovered Halloween for themselves. Finally, an opportunity to invite friends and acquaintances over to celebrate. The conditions are ideal. After all, the noisy festivity is followed by a holiday, at least in some of the states. And those same cheerful souls who are enthused by the infantile fun of being in a whole body costume at Fasching will also find joy in Jell-O eyeballs, axe-in-the-head headbands and werewolf teeth.

Naturally, the retail sector earns hand over fist on all the plastic vampire teeth and the gummy bears shaped like bats, and tries to use Halloween for the rules and the art of marketing. But to be quite honest, what of it? Are the hard-earned Euro invested in scream masks much worse than overpriced Advent calendars or New Year’s firecrackers? The ailing economy is grateful, at least.

To dismiss Halloween as a marketing gimmick of the American advertising industry does not do justice to the matter: The shindig on the night before November 1 is the onomatopoetic blend of the English words “All Hallows’ Eve,” the Christian All Saints Day. But the root of all the fun, as the name already suggests, goes back much further. The old Irish Druids made a tradition of throwing a huge party at the end of the summer together with their Celtic friends.

Return of a European Tradition

They believed that by bringing the animals in from the meadow to the stalls, the souls of dead ancestors returned to the houses. Whether they suspected their reincarnated beastly great aunt was found in the ornery disposition of some goat is a tradition that has not been passed down. With the Christianization of the green island came the end of many a funny elf cult. However, the followers of Jesus did not want to do without the celebration at the end of October. A few martyrs and saints simply joined the ancestors and the Christian holiday of All Saints is complete.

All of the tradition — conscious spoil sports who return to the streets every year at the same time as the piles of pumpkins — unjustly suspect a further attack on European high culture behind Halloween. Quite the opposite; with Halloween, an age-old European tradition that had nearly been forgotten is returning. Reason enough to rush into the creepy pleasure with fervor.

— Sarah K. Schmidt

No desire for Halloween at all? Then read on to the next page.

Sheer Horror

The Euro crisis, the Sarkozy baby, Minister-President Bouffier’s colored hair, and now Halloween. What else? Once there was life before the pumpkin. Until the beginning of the ‘90s, Oct. 31 as Reformation Day was not even a real holiday. We then began to dig out the giant orange fruits and carve stupidly grinning grimaces into them. Today a hollowed-out pumpkin gawks out from every store, every locale and every window weeks before the actual event. Nevertheless, without Halloween we would perhaps still not know, even today, that you can eat the things.

Yet even if you do like pumpkin soup, Halloween is annoying. Just like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. It is not the existence of these holidays that is annoying. It is the way they are observed: in a total craze of consumption.

The Germans go for collective costuming. They appear in costume even at Oktoberfest: in traditional costume. The costumes of the undead — from vampire capes to zombie costumes — come off the rack. The shelves bend beneath the rubber grimaces, werewolf teeth and stick-on open wounds. Whether a Darth Vader onesie for a baby or a “Chucky the murder doll” get-up for the father-in-law, we’ve never gotten the creeps as decoratively as today, with Heidi Klum, the Rhenish optimist, leading the way.

Since she lives in the U.S., far removed from the Cologne Karneval, she elected herself the Halloween representative and disguises herself sometimes as an alien, sometimes as a robot, sometimes as an apple. This year Klum wanted to greet the guests at her Halloween party in a special costume: an anatomical model. A “dead body with the first layer of skin ripped off.” One must imagine she looks like a kind of raw ham on legs after an encounter with body anatomist Gunther von Hagens. Terrible.

A lot of trends from the U.S. are absorbed by us and, without reflection or knowledge of the origin, copied. Halloween has a cultural history in the U.S. For us, it is nothing but an invention of the toy industry reduced to a sort of surrogate Fasching. The historical-cultural meaning for Germany is quickly explained: Karneval was cancelled in 1991 due to the Gulf War; the mask and costume business came to a standstill. The German federal association of the toy industry sought an alternative, introduced Halloween and sold a huge number of masks, artificial blood and vampire teeth. The following year, Karneval returned, but Halloween remained as well.

With it comes a further phenomenon: edible horrors. At Halloween parties, skull pizzas, fingers made of halved Vienna sausages, and severed feet made from pounds of ground meat are served. In addition, there is blood soup from red beets or eyeballs discharging pus made of lychees and vanilla pudding. And the little monsters who otherwise wrinkle their noses in disgust at tomatoes go into ecstasies from their blissful creepiness.

Not long from now the Thanksgiving turkey will kill off the Martinmas goose and wear a Hannibal Lecter mask while doing so.

— Violetta Simon