So it’s Halloween tonight. Celtic holiday, sort of, taken over by the Anglo-Saxons, sort of, and then transported to North America and refined into a truly weird combination of costumes, scary, and sugar.
I’m a transplanted American living in Germany, and I’ve found that Halloween is just catching on here. Apparently nobody knew about it a generation ago — it was a weird thing the Americans did on their bases — but now at least some people are putting up jack o’lanterns and handing out candy. (Fewer jack o’lanterns. American pumpkins have been bred for soft shells and easy carving. Germans, not yet. Carving a German pumpkin is more carpentry than art.) There’s nothing like the tsunami of commercial decorations, costumes, and high fructose corn syrup that seizes America in the last days of October, but people know about it and children want to do it.
Normally I’d roll my eyes at this: another American commercial tradition colonizing the poor old continent, like raccoons invading the Black Forest. But Halloween is a sort of cool holiday. It makes no sense, but it’s fun. Fun is good.
So, my question, European readers: where else in Europe is this holiday taking hold? Are there small children going door to door in Hungary? Costume parties in Portugal? Black-cat paper cutouts in the windows in Finland?
The Berlin Wall.To be sure, this was a busy week for the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. In addition to the obligations caused by a state visit of Queen Elizabteth II, which, not unexpectedly, took place in an atmosphere of tabloid turmoil on both sides of the channel, the autumn European summit in Brussels, and the political digestion of the US election, he managed to upset pretty much everyone in political Germany – and beyond (Bild.de) – with the most bizarre proposal to – sort of – abolish the German national holiday, October 3, in order to boost GDP growth and, as a consequence, eventually meet the fiscal criteria set out in the stability and growth pact. Continue reading →
It’s party time in Barcelona. There’s no circus in town, but there is just about everything else. In fact many of you may be surprised to learn that today is a public holiday here, and indeed it may surprise you even more to discover that the holiday is only Barcelona. This situation is strange for many outside Spain, and draws attention to the fact that decisions about public holidays (and of course, many other matters) are taken at three levels: national, autonomous community, and municipal. (Oh how well I remember the days of travelling round Europe, and needing to change money on just the day………that everything was unexpectedly closed). It also draws attention to the prevalence and social importance of public holidays and festivals here. Of note too is the way these holidays draw attention to that unique combination of the traditional and the modern which characterises contemporary Spain. (Actually, to be really pc here I should say ‘the modern Spanish State’ since this is the terminology adopted by those of its citizens who do not especially consider themselves to be Spanish, there is no equivalent of the British/Welsh/Scottish/English classification here, and Catalan, Basque, and Galician football teams are definitely not encouraged in the new ‘multicultural’ Spain). Continue reading →
European countries never do very well in the gimmicky league tables or comparative indices of nations that thinktanks love to devise in order to meet the bills. You know the sort of thing ? the World Competitiveness Ratings or the Index of Economic Freedom. I thought it was time to come up with one that plays to Europe’s strengths.
What strengths, you may ask? Well the combination of gloomy back-to-work September, and a recent report from the International Labor Organisation, Key Indicators of the Labour Market, reminded me of something the continent has in its favour ? short working hours and long holidays. And so to boost European?s international self-confidence during these difficult economic times, I would like to propose a new measure of how much time we have to spend at work, Work Freedom Day. Continue reading →