Spooky globalization

Any communist regime is, at best, a controversial form of social order. It has a lot of drawbacks such as drabness and uniformity. However, it’s hard to deny that there are some positives related to this political system which ultimately compensate for deficiencies such as the lack of freedom of travel, speech, religion, political expression and other such ‘trifles’. The thing is that life in a communist country is pretty safe; it protects all souls from evil and dangerous ideas. It protects them from confusing diversity and complicated variety. 
Back in my teenage years, when I was thriving happily under a mild version of the communist regime, I had no idea what Halloween was. You couldn’t see any images of pumpkins in English coursebooks (there weren’t many visuals anyway – just the black and white pictures of the ideal Prokop’s family), you couldn’t buy scary masks and bloody costumes in the supermarkets (there weren’t any supermarkets – only shops that sold stuff in fifty shades of grey), and you couldn’t watch loads of American horror movies where people die of fright when they see a ghost (ghosts and life after death weren’t supposed to exist). At that time, anything imported from or related to America (or developed western countries) was considered filthy. 
A quarter of a century later I can claim that things have changed. What I can’t claim is that it’s 100% to the good. We can travel wherever we want and we have glossy, colourful English coursebooks with images of plump pumpkins. We can spend a fortune on a Halloween costume or scary decorations if we can afford it. That’s fine. Every school kid knows what Halloween is but few of them know why we have a public holiday on the 28th of October, for example (Independent Czechoslovak State Day). That’s less fine. There are lots of spectacular events taking place on the last October day while very little actually happens three days earlier. We barely mention this day in English lessons and apart from national flags hanging wearily from schools and bureaux, one will notice nothing out of the ordinary outside the school building.  
Personally, I don’t really care about Halloween very much. If it weren’t for the huge promotional event we do for other schools each year to attract potential students, I wouldn’t probably do anything at all. However, the media massage is irresistible so I sporadically incorporate some Halloween-related stuff into my lessons provided I come across something I find useful from a language point of view (This Halloween lyric is an example of a great activity aimed at pronunciation practice). The question that bothers me is why we let ourselves massaged so willingly by the surroundings. I’m convinced that some people over here genuinely like Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, or Christmas with Santa Clause and I don’t blame them. I also understand why English teachers mention these holidays in their lessons – they are fragments of English speaking countries’ cultures after all. But I sometimes feel resistant to doing something just because others do it. 
In the past we were an enclosed country isolated from the wonderful, colourful western world. Nowadays we’ve reached another extreme – we are exposed to so much variety that we sometimes find it difficult to distinguish the good from the crap. It seems there’s no way to stop globalization but it’s up to us educators to see what is worth passing on to our students and what to throw in the imaginary trash can. 

 PS.: This post was inspired and prompted by Mike Griffin’s ideas on a hot issue
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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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4 Responses to Spooky globalization

  1. Hi Hana,

    I'm totally with you here. Even being in an English-speaking country, the UK, where Halloween in its horribly globalised and commercialised form has been with us for a bit longer than in your context, I still think 'what is the point?'

    To explain, I used to teach ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) in London in an adult education setting (I didn't just teach adults, also teenagers, but that's beside the point). I was teaching migrants, people who had come to the UK to start a new life, whether that was because they couldn't get work in their country or they were fleeing a terrible situation like persecution or war. For these people, how important is it to know about 'jack o'lanterns' and trick or treating? Well, it is and it isn't – for their day-to-day dealings, it's not very useful and not particularly generative as a classroom topic. But once every year, they may have people coming to their door and asking for sweets – they probably need to know why, so that they don't get worried or too angry about it (after all, the trick or treaters are doing it in good spirit).

    I sometimes like using Halloween related stuff in my classes if I can find an interesting way into it. So, it's usually been by contrasting it with other cultures' celebrations at this time of year (Halloween as well but also occasions like Diwali, harvest festivals, and so on) or when I can transform another classroom activity, like I wrote about recently with a couple of spins on speaking about daily routines and doing shop-based role plays. But often, unless specifically doing it as part of 'citizenship' teaching I probably avoid things like Halloween or Guy Fawkes, unless of course, the learners themselves bring it up… 😉

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  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for reading, commenting and explaining your teaching context. I think your reasons for incorporating Halloween related stuff are absolutely justifiable. I'm not implying that other reasons would be unjustifiable though. Some teachers do things simply because kids love them. I don’t want to sound like a bore; if my students asked for Halloween games on 31 October, I’d probably let them play. Ironically, they rarely ask. Maybe they find all the Halloween craze overwhelming too and don’t long for more in English lessons.

    I really like your idea of contrasting Halloween with other cultures’ celebrations. Here in the Czech Republic we celebrate All Souls’ Day on 2 November and it’s one of my favourite holidays. It’s not really fun or something – people go to cemeteries and light candles and place flowers on their family graves – but I love the atmosphere. The cemetery is no longer a gloomy place – it’s crowded but cosy and quiet at the same time. And I believe it’s a very meaningful day; people stop and ponder for a while – the think about the meaning of life and death in general and they remember their once beloved family members….

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Hana

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  3. Dear Hana:
    You cannot imagine how much I enjoyed reading your blog post!
    I absolutely agree with you, both extremes are BAD. We, Argentinians, never had a communist government, but had awful dictatorships which more or less kept some kind of “order” and “protected” us from the evils of being exposed to any kind of cultural manifestation. I SO read you, sweet Hana!
    I cannot understand why we celebrate Halloween here either. I used to have the “Halloween Spirit” while living in the US although some people, especially those with Christian beliefs, did not agree with all the “devilish spirit” going around and replaced Trick or Treat for Trunk or Treat.
    Amazing how we have so many things in common, we also remember All Souls Day on November 2nd, which used to be a holiday.
    So glad to be here, Hana!

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    My dear friend,

    I'm so happy to hear from you again. Thanks for your heartfelt words. Yes, it is amazing how much we have in common, although we come from totally different parts of the world.

    I think I understand why some celebrations may seem shallow or even offensive to people with Christian beliefs. It’s because very serious matters are actually turned into trivial fun. The messages our ancestors once left us, now disguised in spectacular events, are blurred and impossible to decode anymore.

    I think we celebrate Halloween because maybe, we want to shy away from questions we’ll once need to ask and answer – the big questions of life and death. Or maybe it’s the other way around – we’re subconsciously scared of those questions and answers and we allow ourselves, once in a year, to show our fright, even though in a rather amusing and light-hearted way.
    I think I’ll stop here because I’m getting too nerdy here. This what autumn does to me 🙂

    Take care, Fabiana.

    Hana

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