We Love KB Blog

25th October 2020

The great debate: To celebrate Halloween in Aussie, or not?

To celebrate Halloween or not?

 That is the question for many Australians as the end of October creeps nearer, especially for Aussie’s with children who enjoy dressing up and eating their weight in candy. I KNOW, we don’t call it candy. But since Halloween IS an “American holiday” we’ll just go with it. 

Emma Mitchell, 5 and Keely Southern, 5. Picture credit: Kirsten Mitchell

 

Getting into the custom of trick-or-treating may prove a little difficult if the neighbours aren’t into  dishing out lollies on pagan holidays. Many Aussies just don’t get it. 

“I refuse to be influenced by American cultural imperialism. Don’t knock on my door,” came the stern remark of one local in a 2012 Kalgoorlie Miner Facebook poll which asked the public if they were trick-or-treating and what they were dressing up as.

“Nope, not American,” came the simple response of another.

While another local responded more emphatically, “silly dangerous holiday dress up go door knocking and ask a stranger for candy?? and ppl wonder why America has a high pedophilia rate…here’s an idea…keep an eye on ya kids!” 

Still others made jokes, playing on the frivolity of the day.

“Don’t need to dress up…Am a witch naturally, ask my hubby and kids,” one local woman said.

Even though there were more positive comments than negative ones in response to the poll, one thing was certain, the public stood divided.

Beetlejuice entertains the crowds in Somerville, 2019. Picture credit: Kirsten Mitchell

 

Halloween still appears to be a contentious holiday, warmly embraced by some, vehemently scoffed at by others. Despite the popular stance which unifies true blue Aussies firmly against yet another American influence on the Aussie way of life, Halloween is actually not American.

Americans have simply done to Halloween what they do with many holidays and consumerised the heck out of it, making it almost as big and joyful a celebration as Christmas. 

Halloween has become so big in America that “Americans spend an estimated $6 billion dollars annually on Halloween making it the country’s second biggest commercial holiday after Christmas” according to History.com. The website also reported that, “one-quarter of all candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.”

For kids in America where Book Week dress up days don’t exist, Halloween IS their dress up day. They wear their costumes to school to show off to their friends, then everyone gets home and fed and waits for dark to descend. 

Nighttime is the best time to scare yourself silly on Halloween. It’s pure creepiness seeing miniature ghouls, goblins, devils and monsters, traipsing around town with plastic jack-o-lantern buckets full of candy. There are cartoon characters, superheroes and princesses too. Nearly every porch light is turned on, signalling to trick-or-treaters which houses are giving out candy. 

Haunted hayrides and haunted houses designed for the young and young-at-heart entertain those, who in the spirit of the spooky season, enjoy a little extra fright. The weather is cool, the air is fresh and Halloween signifies the official onset of autumn in the northern hemisphere.  

It was during this shift in seasons – the end of harvest time and the beginning of winter – where the holiday began its origins many centuries ago. Taking place between October 31 and November 1, the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was held. November 1 marked the beginning of the Celtic new year when summer was ending, the harvest was finished and crops were dying off. With the dying of the crop was also the dying of the light. A dark, cold time of year was beginning. 

On the night before the new year, it was believed that the barrier between the physical world and spiritual world weakened and spirits could cross over. These spirits: creatures, monsters, and headless men riding flame-eyed horses, were believed to kidnap people, steal their souls or cause death.

Later, Christians introduced All Souls’ Day to replace Samhain. All Souls’ Day was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas, meaning All Saints’ Day. The night before All Saints’ Day was called All Hallows Eve, eventually becoming Halloween. 

Halloween decorations. Picture credit: Kirsten Mitchell

 

Trick-or-treating also had its early origins from the Celtic Samhain celebrations where it was customary for villagers to disguise themselves in animal skins when they made offerings to unwelcome spirits. Other forms of trick-or-treating developed over the ages with poor people begging door-to-door for food or money in exchange for praying for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. In Scotland and Ireland, children would dress up and go door-to-door to perform songs, dances and other “tricks” in exchange for fruit, nuts, coins and other treats.

Hundreds of years and thousands of Irish immigrants later, America was infused with these Celtic beliefs and customs. At the turn of the 20th century these customs had become community gatherings featuring games, parades, seasonal foods and festive costumes. Treats were given to neighborhood children in hopes of preventing them from playing pranks. This tradition became more popular as an inexpensive way for the whole community to share in the Halloween celebration. After World War II, the importance of Halloween to bring communities together was fully entrenched in the American way of life.

Now, in the 21st century, it is this sense of community togetherness that is at the core of Halloween celebrations. Japan, the Philippines, Mexico, India and Romania are among some of the other countries to celebrate with their own versions of Halloween.

From the Celtic lands of long ago to modern day America, Halloween is a way for everyone to gather and celebrate the passage of time and the shifting of seasons.

It is the end of the cold stillness of winter here in Australia, the beginning of longer days, of warmth and of life. 

Americans adapted it in their own outlandish way. Will Aussies be the next to fully embrace it?  

 

Kirsten Mitchell
Creative Writer
We Love KB