Well, I took a stroll down Memory Lane last Saturday night, when I brought my little boy out ‘trick or treating’ (or, as they used to say in my day, ‘we went around for Halloween’). And what an eye-opener it was.
Okay, so I’d had a bit of an inkling that things had changed somewhat when I saw costumes for dogs making an appearance on the supermarket shelves. Incidentally, my poor pooch spends most of the Halloween season under the bed, whimpering at the sound of fireworks, so I don’t think she’d take too kindly to donning a Yoda outfit. But I was simply not prepared for how completely ‘Americanised’ (for want of a better word) the festivities have become. Gone are the days of throwing an old sheet over your head and heading around the houses to collect apples and nuts, believe me.
My memory of Halloween in the 80’s is great. Every child in the neighbourhood would be out collecting. And if you heard tell of someone doling out money or sweets, there’d be a stampede to their house before the whole place got wind of it and they were cleaned out. Mind you, on talking about it with my better half the other night, neither or us recalls ever eating any of the apples or nuts we collected so I presume they all went in the bin.
Anyway, back to last weekend. There wasn’t a bin liner or a home-made mask in sight as we made our way around to the houses in our neighbourhood. And I nearly fell over when I copped the contents of my little boy’s loot bag. There was one apple, not a monkey nut in sight and the remainder of the over-flowing bag was sweets, choccies, lollies and crisps galore. Oh the excitement – and that was just us parents!
The loot bag contained sweets I haven’t seen in years and so prompted a night of nostalgia in our house, recalling those lemon sherbets and Dib Dabs of our youth. And, according to a study I came across recently, we’re going to see a lot more of those sugary and nostalgic treats as Christmas approaches, as retailers try to cash in our yearning for times’ past. It’s a widely held belief that, during times of economic recession, consumers will turn to nostalgic comfort foods and so lots of our favourite childhood sweets are currently making a comeback.
Marks & Spencer has reported a 70 per cent increase in sales of fizzy cola bottles, rhubarb and custard and wine gums while House of Fraser are apparently due to revive popular sweets sold in old-fashioned sweet shop jars for the Christmas market.
And it’s not only sweet confectionery. Though retailers say the total volume of the food we buy has gone down for the first time in more than 20 years, supermarkets are reporting enormous surges in the sales of liver, stewing beef and other traditional pieces of meat, as we all instinctively seek solace in those stodgy old childhood favourites. I suppose those kind of meals conjure images of us huddled around the hearth with our nearest and dearest; I know there’s nothing I prefer more on a miserable winter’s evening than the smell of a pot of stew wafting through the house.
Apparently cup-cake businesses are also booming (more Americanised nonsense, whatever happened to the lovely fairy cake?). As we comfort-eat and treat ourselves to a little bit of affordable luxury, the ‘cup cake’ is apparently one of the most popular treats in supermarkets and cafes, reminding us of retro, 1950’s domesticity.
And they’re oh so vogue, if you go by the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker and Co on Sex and the City regularly tucked into those little pink-iced buns. Sure, cupcake tiers are even fast replacing the traditional wedding cake (whatever about a few apples at Halloween, but who in the name of God wants to tuck into a great lump of soggy fruit cake and marzipan anyway). Plus those cupcakes are smaller, ergo there’s fewer calories, ergo you can eat more. Alright, it mightn’t be the most logical deduction but, hey, I like it.