Halloween in Australia: a defence
Around this time of year we notice a deep division between people.
In the blue corner, we have those who announce a deep dislike of Halloween. In the (blood) red corner, we have a more embracing bunch, Halloween lovers.
Before we go any further, I must confess that I am firmly in the red corner. But don’t let that dissuade you — I’m all for open discussion.
Those who fight against Halloween often use the following arguments (that do have some merit):
- Halloween is simply another Americanisation, and why do we have to follow them in everything?
- Halloween is just another commercialised ‘holiday’
- Trick or treaters are annoying
- Giving kids candy is being a bad influence
- I just don’t like it
Look. All of these arguments make sense when you view them from a certain perspective but there are always two sides to a story.
#1: Halloween has largely been popularised in Australia by the United States, and our TV and movie influences have largely been to blame there. For those that tell us Halloween is an American tradition — well, you’re almost right. Halloween hails from pagan roots, with the Gaelic festival of Samhain thought to be an early variation of the holiday. It was Christianised into All Hallow’s Eve, which was a three day remembrance of the dead and spirits (hence the ‘scary’ costumes, and the association of Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead with Halloween). A lot of America’s first colonisers (not their first people) celebrated this holiday so it was brought to America. Celebrations and traditions change and evolve and, eventually, Halloween has turned from a pagan holiday to the dressing up and trick-or-treating tradition we see today. And it’s enticing, particularly for kids. You mean I get to dress up in scary outfits AND get free junk food from our neighbours?! For adults, I guess some of the appeal is in a day where fancy dress is compulsory and embracing the more gruesome side of things is more than just accepted: it’s the norm.
#2: Halloween has been commercialised, yes. The food, the costumes, the parties, the decorations: it all costs money and develops a multi-million dollar industry. So does Valentine’s Day. So does Easter. New Year’s Eve. Melbourne Cup Day. Christmas. Some are religious holidays that, like Halloween, have changed and evolved. Not everyone believes in Jesus Christ, but they still celebrate Christmas as a time to gather with family and give and receive gifts. If you’re going to be angry about a holiday, make it Valentine’s Day. Why are people not already telling their significant other that they love them? Why relegate it to a day? Back to the point: yes, Halloween is commercialised, but what holiday or celebration isn’t?
#3: Trick or treaters are annoying. I’ll give you this one because you have to be a certain type of person — generally one who likes kids — to really enjoy this side of Halloween. Last year I had a couple of little girls come to my door — a zombie and witch respectively — that weren’t thrilled at my choice of chocolates. I didn’t really mind, because trick or treaters give you a chance to meet people in your neighbourhood you’ve never met before and it can be an important tool for kids to use in future social situations. It’s hard to go up to someone you don’t know and talk to them. Is there really any other time that kids get to practice social skills like that in such a creative way? Once again, it helps if you like kids. If you don’t, a sign should suffice. It’s a good way for kids to learn that people are allowed to have different opinions.
#4: Giving kids candy is a bad influence, is it? This is a hard one to tackle. Yes, eating too much sugar is bad for you, but that’s something that parents should be teaching their own children. And if they’re not, then that’s their choice. That’s what school is for. But if we’re going to change trick or treating, we’ll also need to change the party bag kids get at friends’ birthday parties. And the food at parties. And calling lollies ‘treats’. And anything else that vaguely refers to junk food as good. It’s a bigger problem than just Halloween. But for now, feel free to be the person that gives out vegetables. At least you’ll develop a harrowing reputation as the neighbourhood health-nut!
#5: You just don’t like it. You’re entitled to your opinion, but please back it up with something. That’s not an answer I’m going to accept from my kids, so I’m sure as hell not going to accept it from you. Any of the above will suffice, just make sure you’re able to articulate your feelings!
Halloween lets kids embrace their fears in a safe environment. It teaches them that being scared at first is OK and that it is possible to face your fears.
Having been lucky enough to parent two stepkids, I can also say this for Halloween: it massively engages kids’ imaginations. I’ve watched my stepdaughter go from only ever wanting to be Elsa or Anna to wanting to be a pumpkin and a devil. My stepson has gone from only wanting to dress up as Christiano Ronaldo to letting me dress him up as a vampire with face paint and make up. They’re much more creative and willing to put the effort in to make something unique.
Plus, I get to dress up with them and that’s pretty damn fun, too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s time to be a little fairer to Halloween. You can still dislike it, but I just ask you to be aware that there is a whole lot more to it than the Americanisation of our youth and the commercialisation of our celebrations.
Happy Halloween, everyone! (Except the anti-Halloweeners. Happy Tuesday to you.)
Feature image by Toa Heftiba via Unsplash