Halloween is over for another year, thank god. I closed my blinds, turned off the lights at the front of my house so the house would seem empty and hid quietly in the back. I cringed each time the doorbell rang, not moving, so the groups of children seeking gifts of sweets would go away.
Halloween is not an Australian event. But we celebrate other country’s events, such as Chinese New Year and Indian Diwali. What’s wrong with celebrating Halloween?
A Very Brief History of Halloween
Halloween seems to be based on ancient Celtic pagan rituals honouring ghosts of the dead. Later, Christians combined it as the evening before All Hallows Festival (Hallows evening, Halloween) which remembered saints who had died for their beliefs. It came to America in the 1840s, but ‘trick or treating’ did not develop till the 1930s. At first, treats could be anything – fruit, vegetables, nuts, cakes – but chocolate then took over and the event became commercialised, so much so that $2bn of Halloween ‘candy’ is sold in the US now, as the event is celebrated by the whole country, regardless of its religious roots.
Halloween in America – a Major Celebration
In the US Halloween primarily revolves around children ‘trick or treating’ – a couple of hours of evening fun for kids, wandering in bands from neighbourhood house to house. Houses are decorated with pumpkins cut to resemble people’s faces and lit with candles (called Jack o’ Lanterns), scary costumes (linking to the dead) for kids are emphasised, representing the need to appease the spirit world by treating them, rather than having a trick played on you.
I’ve lived in the US and seen this full evolution of Halloween, with pumpkins, decorated houses, witches, scary costumes and tricks. But I’ve also seen there the tremendous volumes of candy/lollies which kids receive for threatening to do a trick at a house. When my kids arrived back with – literally – kilos of candy, we rationed it to a couple of bars a day…it took more than a month before they lost interest in their loot and didn’t realise we had thrown out major parts of their haul.
Halloween in Australia – an Imported Custom with no Cultural Base
But that’s America. It’s not Australia (or the rest of the world). It’s their event, their history. Good luck to them. (But it’s such a pity it has become a candy haul – how much can I collect? – contributing significantly to that country’s obesity levels, rather than the ‘trick or treat’ event between local adults and children it used to be).
How did it get to Australia?? I assume it was from the influence of American TV programs, coupled with Australian families travelling to the US, seeing the fun event that is Halloween there, and wanting to repeat it at home. Instead, it seems to have morphed into just the ‘treat’ part, with no understanding of its ghoulish history or challenging meaning.
What Should We Do?
Halloween shouldn’t be forced on unsuspecting people here in their homes, with kids acting like door-to-door salespeople, seeking ‘candy’, with no concept of the ‘trick’, only the free ‘treat’.
It wouldn’t matter if it was just a fun event between consenting parties. But the pressure people feel to go and buy lollies for kids they don’t know, for an event that doesn’t belong here, for kids who don’t know what they are celebrating – it’s not on…and it’s time we stopped it.
Let’s focus instead on those events that make sense in Australia. Wouldn’t it be good if kids were encouraged to properly celebrate Australia Day (once we sort out a date that makes sense for all Australians, not just the white invaders) or Anzac Day (celebrating our independence and remembering the horror of war) with spirit and meaning? I’d love to open my doors to kids doing that.