Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween

I've been thinking a bit about Halloween, after Donna Lee posted about it a few weeks ago. To put it simply (and using the words of an infamous former Australian politician, as well as her distinctive accent, which I must always do when I say this phrase), "I don't like it".

I've been trying to work out why I feel like this - and I should clarify, it's only the attempt to insert Halloween into Australia that I don't particularly like. Very happy for Americans, the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish (and whichever other countries have this tradition) to go for it (or to celebrate it here, as I know some do!). I wonder if it's because it's particularly associated with the US (due to seeing it on US tv shows all the time!) that I resent attempts to introduce it here. I feel like our culture is Americanised enough already...but maybe I am being close-minded?

Maybe I'm just a grinch? After all, it seems to be pretty much just a chance to dress up, have fun, and eat a lot of lollies - and what could be wrong with that?? Actually, I think that might be the real issue I have. Halloween grew out of several traditions (or possibly superstitions) and has evolved over time into what it is now (and no doubt will continue to evolve). Australians adopting it as it currently is I suppose strikes me as somewhat commercial (like what Valentine's Day has become) and lacks a sense of history or meaning. I think that's probably what I don't like.

And also we don't have those fabulous round orange pumpkins easily available here! (unless you want to pay $30 each for them, without the romance of going to a huge pumpkin farm to choose them!)

Guess I'd better go and put on my grinch outfit now...

26 comments:

Bells said...

yeah! totally! If halloween was going to be properly adopted here we'd have to celebrate it in March, or April, not October. To celebrate it here at this time of year removes it from what little meaning it has left anywhere in the world.

I'm all for keeping this traditions alive, as long as they remain connected to the pagan feast days in some way. From where I stand, it just looks like a kiddie festival of sugar and fancy dress. I try to avoid it at all costs here. Australian kids walking the streets in broad daylight scouting for lollies just seems silly. They have NO idea why they're doing it.

Susanne said...

I agree with you completely, it just doesn't feel right here for some reason.

The fact that more and more kids knock on our door each year asking for lollies doesn't help my attitude either!

(I had to use my Pauline Hanson voice when I read your first paragraph too).

mooncalf said...

It isn't really a UK custom either. We had a separate tradition called Mischief Night on 4th. And I suppose All Saint's Day has generally been on 6th. But the full on costumes, pumpkins and trick or treating is a very new import. I blame Hallmark!

kim said...

I love the pumpkins and the decorating, but when it comes to strangers knocking on my door, driving my doggies insane, and begging for food. Um, no thanks!

There, I said it. And I'm American.

Donna Lee said...

It's funny because when I was a kid, Hallowe'en was a children's holiday (mostly) and now it seems that the adults have co-opted it. There is a real pagan tradition behind it (and All Saint's Day is the next day) but that seems to have fallen by the wayside. I like Hallowe'en and have enjoyed putting on a costume and going to work dressed up. It can be rather festive. Unfortunately, the atmosphere here is not conducive to such frivolity this year. I have a jack o'lantern shirt which I will wear and that will be my costume. I like giving out candy and seeing all the kids dressed up as their favorite super heros!

m1k1 said...

I'm with you 100% on this one.
Is there anyone else reading this, old enough to remember when President Johnson came to Australia, I guess at the height of the Vietnam War, and we were bombarded with the slogan 'all the way with LBJ'?
Recalling it made me rephrase my first sentence from 'with you all the way on this'. Ah memories.
signed Scrooge (because Grinch sounds too US for me)

Roxie said...

Are they pushing Halloween on you? That pretty much sucks. Scampering around in the costume in the dark with fallen leaves blowing around and scowling pumpkins is the way it's supposed to be. But traditions change. Used to be, the jack-o-lantern was a hollowed out turnip with a candle stuck in it. When the holiday moved to America, those big pumpkins made much better lanterns, so the tradition changed.

Do you have a time when adults customarily wear costumes? New Year's Eve or Mardi Gras or Melbourne Cup Day or something? Costumes and candy ARE a lot of fun, and I love seeing the little kids who come to our door.

del said...

I had no idea that Halloween was like that in Australia. Thanks for the eye-opener! I agree that you shouldn't be guilted into "celebrating" or giving out treats.

Mary said...

I grew up in the UK during the 50s and early 60s, even though I am US citizen. There was no Halloween activity there at the time and I didn't miss it. The big celebration around this time of the year use to be Guy Fawkes Day (bonfire and all). Just returned from trip to UK and the stores are loaded with Halloween items. Seems very strange; I don't blame you for not wanting the US tradition (and the expense and junk that comes with it) to migrate over to your lovely land.

MadMad said...

I'm not such a big fan either, but the kids really, really have a great time, so it's hard to do away with it. And I can see why they like it - all that candy and walking around at night... it is fun. (I just hate all the work that surrounds it when you're the mom!)

amy said...

Halloween most definitely should NOT be celebrated in the spring. That is just wrong, wrong, wrong. (I also think celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer is wrong, but then, I very much embrace the pagan roots of a winter solstice holiday, ie, celebrating the light in the midst of darkness. It's no mistake that the Northern Hemisphere Christmas falls so close to the shortest day of the year.) I like the harvest-related activities we try to do every autumn: pumpkin carving and corn mazes, and yes, Halloween. There is something magical about dressing up as someone else and knocking on doors in the dark. The dark! That used to be the best part when I was a kid. The air smelled different that night. Crisp, and like wood-burning stoves. You'd shuffle through the leaves making swishy noises with your feet, and hear people's voices through the dark, up and down the street. Magical. I am not so crazy about the candy aspect, but honestly, my kids will get a piece a day for a few days and then I'll just sort of forget about their candy and they will, too, until the day they say, Hey, what happened to our candy? And I'll say, Huh? And give them a candy cane to placate them. ;)

kms said...

because we live in a stupid risk-averse society, traditions more relevant to the white australian cultural background (like firecracker night. hello!) have been banned, so we get stupid imported stuff to do that involves BUYING things we dont need. im totally with you on the lack of meaning and history, and it drives me CRAZY!!

2paw said...

Woman after my own heart!! We should be a Halloween Free Zone. From what I see here, at least, all the advertising and such has little effect. No-one really Halloweens and on November 1st there are always hugely discounted ghost and pumpkiny things on sale everywhere!! Good on us. And thanks for the Pauline words, I can hear them in my head now!!!

Kris said...

Awww, the grinches are all making this transplanted Yank very sad! What's wrong with a bit of fun?

Yeah, I'd prefer Halloween to be in the Autumn too. It allows for more of the harvest type activities. (Amy's comment about going out in the dark on a crisp night took me right back.)

The complaints about trick-or-treating are funny, mostly because they describe people who are doing it wrong. I guess it's because the only experience is through TV shows and such. Most towns designate a specific night for trick-or-treating, and kids know to only go to houses with decorations and the porch light on. You don't just go up to random houses and beg for candy. It's an opt-in system, and nobody gets upset at folks who choose not to participate. (And there are always the folks who hand out toothbrushes instead!) Not sure how to correct this problem though, other than by a concerted Halloween education effort.

The commercialism aspect is an interesting one. I'm of the opinion that Halloween is one of least commercial holidays. You really don't need to spend anything at all if you don't want to. There are no gifts or cards to give. Trick-or-treating is optional. It's all about fun and creativity. You can make your own costume. You can make your own food and decorations. Yeah, there are always going to be lame people who just buy everything, but there's also a very big DIY and crafting scene around Halloween. A lot more people make their own Halloween treats than make their own Valentine cards! And there are plenty of people who retain the traditional "Day of the Dead" aspects of the holiday. (Google for "sugar skulls", for example.)

Anyway, there's my tiny defense of Halloween. It's not more insidious or evil than the other lesser holidays, and it's definitely less commercial than Christmas or Easter. Oh! And that reminds me of my favorite reason to have Halloween in Australia, even in the middle of spring: It holds back Christmas. I am still continually surprised to see Christmas stuff appearing in the shops in the spring here. With a holiday in the interim, Christmas tends to get walled into the last two months of the year. Who wouldn't want that?

So please, disregard the aspects of the holiday that you've seen on TV. Instead think of it as a DIY holiday centered on fancy dress, fun, spooky treats, and being someone else for a while. That's all good stuff!

Bells said...

nice thoughts Kris. thanks for that!

chocolatetrudi said...

A few years ago the doorbell rang on Halloween night. Hearing the sound of children's voices, I realised what night it was. Of course, being Australian, I had no reason to remember the date or buy lollis - we don't usually get trick-or-treaters.

So I did what we always do on those rare occasions we do - ignored them knowing that if nobody answered the door they'd move on. (It's not fair to answer it as for a moment the poor kids get a rush of hope only to be disappointed.)

But these kids didn't. They started bashing on the old glass panels beside the door so hard I had to go tell them to stop or they'd break them. I discovered that it was a group of about twenty, and about half were teenagers. I told them we don't celebrate Halloween and they actually started complaining and arguing.

When telling friends about this, I found that most of them agreed: Halloween is the most annoying, meaningless holiday of the year.

But I can finally understand from the comments above that it's not meant to be. Oh, if only those who wanted to trick or treat followed that code of only visiting houses with the porch light on!

m1k1 said...

Ah Roxie. Baldrick would have been very pleased then.
"What did you do with all the money, Baldrick?"
"I bought an enormous turnip, my lord."

Kris said...

Yikes! Yeah, that would really put me off too, chocolatetrudi. And in fact, the first year I had a Halloween party in Sydney some local kids saw the party and came "trick-or-treating." They weren't even wearing costumes. I was feeling generous though, so I grabbed a bucket of lollies off the table and told them to pick one out. The first kid grabbed a whole handful and took off running. I was so shocked and angry. I pulled the bucket away and said to the others, "He took yours! He ruined it for everybody!" And then I told them to get lost. I was worried they might come back and destroy my decorations or something, but luckily they didn't.

So yeah, a bad experience like that sucks. But this year, one of my neighbours emailed me to say his son wanted to "trick-or-treat," and he wondered if we would be willing to be the possibly sole destination. Sure! That polite kid is gonna get showered with fun stuff tonight, let me tell you. :)

Maria said...

Totally agree with your comments. I love tradition - major time.
I am not in favour of Americanism adopting themselves here. But my main gripe is having total strangers, who are children wandering the neighbourhood - just not on for their saftey

diane_s said...

I am American and have lived here for a long time . Halloween on a warm night and in daylight savings just isn't right . It doesn't really belong here. I have had kids come to my house and they don't understand the whole thing , they just say give up stuff and they don't have costumes . I belongs in the crisp fall evenings of my childhood in another country . Maybe we should have a night when kids go from door to door and say "stand and deliver " :)

Bianca said...

I agree with your sentiments Jane! Although, I think the community side of it is a lovely thing in the US. Yesterday though we got a note in our letterbox telling us the local kids were going to be trick or treating, they advised exact streets and a time frame. They invited anyone who wants to participate to hang balloons or streamers if they are happy to receive trick or treaters. Anyone without streamers won't be called on...well by this group of neighbourhood kids at least. You know, even though I'm a cynic about the whole Halloween in Australia thing, I'm quite touched by this and feel like it creates a bit of a community feel around the night while not pissing off people who don't give a stuff about handing kids lollies for nothing.

And you know I have to confess I'm still undecided about whether to hang balloons or not....

Alwen said...

Oh, dear, I had no idea Hallowe'en was being inflicted on you! I guess it feels like some of these fake Hallmark card "holidays" that I didn't grow up with, things like Boss's Day and Sweetest Day (eh, what?) that the card companies just made up out of the whole cloth.

But my growing-up Hallowe'ens were a lot like Amy's, walking from house to house with Mom & my brothers in a swirl of fallen leaves and that heavy tannin smell, drinking cider, and getting as much candy as we could stand to walk and walk and walk for. The littlest brother always put a limit on that!

I confess, before I had so many internet friends the inverted seasons never sank in the way they do now! Hallowe'en in spring is completely messed up.

Caffeine Girl said...

Hold out against Americanization! I love the holiday here in the U.S., but see no reason to foist it on Australia!

Yarna said...

In essence, I agree with Jane. In the rush to embrace all things American, we seem to have totally missed the point of Halloween (as explained by Kris and others). I am perplexed by the notion that it is perfectly OK to send your children out begging when the other 364 days of the year we are warning them of "Stranger danger" and warning them about taking lollies from strangers. And then there are the teenagers who think it is perfectly acceptable for them to don a cheap mask or a rag around their shoulders and go and threaten the neighbourhood with egging if you don't give them something. Seems to me there needs to be more community education so that trick or treating is better organised and that those who don't want to participate aren't made to feel guilty or even worse, harassed.
Wherever you are, hope you all have a happy All Hallows Eve!

catsmum said...

I'm glad you said this RR - was thinking about it over the dishes this morning and you've saved me having to try and phrase it any better than you already have

and Yarna?
what you said girl!

Alice said...

A few shops definitely try to create enthusiasm for Halloween here in the UK, but I don't think it can be considered a popular event. There was also a great deal of halloween sweets still left in the shops I went to on Friday and Saturday!

As someone else said, Guy Fawkes (or Bonfire) Night is a much bigger event here!