Poland doesn’t like Halloween. And while the “Americanization” of the day before All Saints Day is trying to gain ground, here are a few thoughts of mine why it will never succeed.
The Catholic Church
Poland is mostly Roman Catholic, and the church here hates Halloween. Stopping just short of calling it witchcraft, even pumpkin carving is frowned upon here. “If you don’t have a clue of what to do with a pumpkin, I can give you a recipe!” said one priest in a local parish.
It’s a lost battle right out of the gate. In America, there’s this separation of church and state. Not so much here. The church is very political, to the point of where for the first time in my life I’ve been pondering not going anymore on Sundays. During the last presidential election, priests would even encourage parishioners who to vote for. As if the Church itself didn’t have it’s own problems to deal with, they had to mess with the government as well.
To me, raised Catholic, and raised in the States, the church is a place of worship where I can go and talk to a higher power. But when a priest tells me I can’t carve a pumpkin, yeah, you’re not gonna get much out of me when the collection tray comes around. And we’re talking a mass attack in most churches during the Sunday Mass and in the media, all by the Catholic Church scolding anyone who participates in the ‘devils’ Halloween.
It’s hard for something new to gain ground among people who simply don’t know what Halloween is. But then again, do you know what it means, what it stands for, and where and when it begun? Chances are that you don’t, and to you just like to me, Halloween means candy, costumes, parties, and parades. It’s a fun and ‘scary’ time. Yet how do you translate that into Polish?
“Here see, what you do is you put on a costume, walk up to a house, and say Trick-or-Treat. And if they don’t have candy, you play a prank on them.”
That’s not gonna fly.
“Who are you? Why am I giving you candy? Why are you all dressed up? Get the f@&k outta my yard.”
That’s a most likely response among the older generation of people living here who are already extremely cautious of people trying to extort money from them in various very clever ways. A person with a mask on their face, asking to gain entry to their house/property, asking for stuff, is not making it past the guard dog everyone seems to have here.
Low Income and Poverty
Wages are not high in Poland. With a typical social security check hovering around $300 dollars a month, what older lady is gonna buy candy for the trick-or-treaters coming by her house. A $1,000 dollar a month take-home salary would be seen as pretty good money. Who’s gonna spend any of it on candy to give away to strangers? The winter is coming, coal is expensive, heating gas is expensive, everyone’s looking to cut any costs until the spring season. Plus Christmas is almost here. Presents are pricey, meals around Christmas time are very elaborate and usually not cheap to prepare either. Gotta buy winter clothes, put expensive gas in your car, who’s gonna find room in their budget for candy? Even if it’s cheap candy, you still take away from something else, right? Halloween in America also means big business. Costumes, pumpkins, it’s a cash cow for a lot of big retailers. But people of Poland, constantly bombarded with ads and sales in all main brand shopping centers, are tired of seeing yet another reason to spend money.
Halloween evolves from the Celtic culture in Ireland. But in Poland Halloween is seen as an American invention mainly due to misrepresentation from the media. And people here don’t always see Americans in the brightest of lights. From the country that brought you McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and the recent recession, Poland is not so America happy these days and calling Halloween an American holiday is not going to get it much recognition. There is this “why must all things American be so great?” ideology that begun as a counterattack to the “that’s how it’s done in America” thinking. It’s a love hate relationship really. Everyone here loves McDonald’s, and yet it’s the “American Fat Machine”. Trust me, there isn’t a McDonald’s, KFC, or Burger King in Wrocław starving for customers.
Does Poland Really Need It?
Last but not least is a very strong point I’d like to make. Does Poland need Halloween at all? It’s a cultural thing, and yes, Poland could do completely without Halloween altogether. It has done so until a couple of years ago. Right now Poland is in this 50/50 stage where Halloween is bad, but there are pumpkin festivals promoting carvings, costume parties being thrown, and big store brands trying to monopolize on the idea. You can’t tell someone eating cake is bad, but then give them all the ingredients, instructions, and motivation to bake it. Like I said, it’s a cultural thing. Does Halloween belong in Poland, no. Is it a fun holiday, yes. Will I be carving pumpkins next year, yes. Will it gain more ground next year, well, I’ll let you know.