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America's Halloween Obsession Exported Back To U.K.


If you love Halloween, you can thank the Irish and the Scots. That includes the Celtic tradition of carving jack-o'-lanterns from turnips. In the U.S., that became pumpkin carving. And now the American obsession with Halloween has been exported back to the U.K. Farmers in Britain are rolling out pumpkins for the season like never before, and NPR's Leila Fadel visited a pumpkin farm there.


LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The little thuds you're hearing are the sounds of pumpkin pickers gently dropping the large orange fruits into crates. It's almost Halloween, and they have to get them onto store shelves.

JAMES BRAMLEY: We started off with six acres of pumpkins, and now we grow near to 67 acres of pumpkins.

FADEL: That's James Bramley, the vegetable manager at MH Poskitt farms in northern England. Until four years ago, he'd never grown a pumpkin. There was no market for it. Now Bramley anxiously surveys the last of the crop.

BRAMLEY: Halloween - that is the day we are aiming for. Anything we have left will be worthless after that day.

FADEL: Come November 1, you can't give them away, he says. There's no Thanksgiving, no pumpkin pie and no pumpkin chunking - it's just Halloween. Drew Gray is a social historian at the University of Northampton. He's in his 50's, and as a kid in North London he never celebrated Halloween.

DREW GRAY: Where it touched our consciousness was through the cartoon series in paper and in - on television of "Peanuts," by Charles Schulz, where Linus and his friends, they celebrated Halloween. They had the great pumpkin.

FADEL: Before then Gray had never even seen a pumpkin.

GRAY: And so American culture is - it seems to have taken the roots of something that was British-Celtic and then suffused that within American culture, American food and American pastimes. And they've recreated it and sent it back across the pond.

FADEL: In Britain, it's rare to see pumpkins being sold by the side of the road. Almost all of them are sold by the big supermarket chains. Mij Ramen is the general manager of an ASDA supermarket in East London.

MIJ RAMEN: We'll go all out to get that last pumpkin out the door, also known as the bumpkin.

FADEL: Ramen says the ASDA chain will sell tens of thousands of pumpkins this year. It's not just pumpkins that are big in Britain now, he says, it's also the other trappings of Halloween. It's now one of the biggest retail holidays in the country.

This is Angels. It's in the heart of Theatreland in London, and it's the oldest costume shop in the U.K. So if anyone knows how Halloween has changed, it's these guys.

EMMA ANGEL: Halloween has just grown, and grown, and grown over the years in the U.K.

FADEL: Emma Angel's family has owned this business for seven generations. She walks us through six floors of costumes. There are fangs, masks, makeup kits, Victorian dresses and so much more. She's expecting there will be lines down the block this week.

ANGEL: We normally have, I think, 12 members of staff working here. At Halloween, we have 40. Plus we have eight security guards who have to crowd control for us.

FADEL: Angels expects to do more than $3 million worth of sales this October. That's up from virtually nothing 10 years ago. America's Halloween tradition, she says, has been good for this British business.

Leila Fadel, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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