Why I Hate Halloween (in Australia)

Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, is a holiday that is both new and old. While its roots can be traced back to ancient times, it has really only been celebrated in the modern way for 50 or 60 years, primarily in the USA and Canada.

More than 2000 years ago, the Celts lived in modern Ireland. The time between harvest and winter was an important one for them, and on the 31st of October each year they celebrated Samhain. This celebration mainly consisted of bonfires, food, and sacrifices to the Gods (mostly crops and animals). It was believed that the spirits of the dead could return on this night, and that the veils between life and death, summer and winter, were thinner and more easily pierced. So the celebrants would often dress in costume to hide from malicious spirits.

When the Roman empire spread through Europe and Britain, they brought with them their own customs and beliefs. The Romans celebrated the passing of the dead in late October, as well as a day of worship for Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. Both of these holidays were incorporated into the Celtic Samhain, adding an extra element of ghostliness and Pomona’s symbol, the apple, to the day.

As Christianity spread through the world, heathens were encouraged and then instructed to stop practicing their own celebrations. When that didn’t work, Catholic leaders began moving Christian feasts and holidays to coincide with Heathen feasts. Thus the day to celebrate Christian martyrs and saints was moved from May to November 1, and called All Saints Day — or Alholowmesse in Middle English. The night before, the traditional night of Samhain, soon came to be known as All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.

The modern idea of Halloween in the US and Canada has only existed since around the 1950s. Although Halloween was celebrated in North America for a couple of hundred years before that, the traditions of today weren’t around prior to mid 20th century. But most of them date back to the older, heathen customs.

Costume wearing is from the Celtic tradition of hiding from mischievous dead. Trick-or-Treating was the Church-sanctified replacement for sacrificing food to the Gods. Pumpkin carving relates to the Celtic practice of extinguishing all hearth fires and then re-lighting them from the communal bonfires. Apple bobbing is a nod to the Roman Goddess Pomona. And the name, Halloween, is a version of the Christian All Saint’s Eve.

All of which is very interesting, but doesn’t explain why I hate Halloween.

I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, without ever hearing about Halloween. Back in those days, no one in Australia celebrated it. Or, if they did, they did so quietly. There was certainly no costumes or trick-and-treating. And doing so would have made no sense. It’s the start of summer. Why celebrate something  spooky when the sun is just starting to stay out late?

But when I was 8 years old, we moved to the States for two years. And, my oh my, didn’t I get an education in Halloween?

The food! The candy! The costumes! The candy! The bigger-than-your-head plastic orange pumpkin buckets to carry said candy! The songs and riddles and games! The parties! The candy! The decorations! Did I mention the candy?

I don’t honestly remember what I dress up as for the two years I was there. But I remember wandering the neighbourhood, going door to door to ask for candy, and having total strangers gush about how great we looked and drop handfuls of cheap chocolate and sugary goodness into our outstretched buckets.

I remember getting home and tipping our loot out on to the floor, and staring in wonder. And then eating as much as I could before falling into bed with a stomch ache.

I remember going to the most amazing party I’d ever been to, with witches and wizards and ghosts and goblins and a few devils. (I was too young to understand that all devils weren’t scantily-clad young blonde women.) We played games, and listened to ghost stories, and did some apple bobbing, and ate candy, and I had the best time of my young life.

I remember my parents going all out with decorating our house, and my Dad getting right into character as a mad scientist/psychopath, ready to hand out candy to all comers. I will never forget walking home after our trick-and-treating was finished, and meeting another group of kids who were just leaving our house. “Don’t go up there,” one of them said, his voice shaking a little. “I think there’s dead bodies. And the man’s really scary.”

I loved Halloween. Even more than Christmas.

And then we moved back to Australia.

We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia. Just like we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, or the 4th of July. Halloween is not an Australian holiday. And after I got over my initial disappointment that there would be no more tubs of free candy or school days spent watching scary movies, I was okay with that.

I am okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is the way that faux-Halloween-fever invades Australia at this time of year.

Walk into a shopping mall, and everywhere you look there are cheap Halloween costumes for kids, tacky decorations, and spider-webs strung everywhere. The thing is: none of it is really for Halloween. It’s just a way to display dodgy old stock in an attempt to cash in on the idea that Halloween is cool.

And it is.

If you’re in the US or Canada.

Turn on the TV at the end of October and all you’ll see if Halloween specials. Even on Australian shows. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo.

Memo: We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia.

Every year, one or two groups of children knock on the door looking for candy. And every year I say no. If for no other reason than because everyone (who celebrates Halloween) knows that you only trick-or-treat at houses with the light on.

Do I wish we celebrated Halloween in Australia? Sometimes. Actually, yes. Yes, I do.

But hanging fake cobwebs over the confectionery aisle in the supermarket and using Halloween Specials to boost TV ratings doesn’t mean we’ve got a holiday. It means we’ve got an excuse for more commercialism.

And that’s why I hate Halloween in Australia.

What do you think, am I a cranky curmudgeon (get off my lawn!), or do I have a point?

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17 Comments

Filed under Opinion

17 responses to “Why I Hate Halloween (in Australia)

  1. I believe you have a point…and that point is people should get the hell off your lawn..

    I get your point. When I went to school in Ohio, I found out about this completely made up holiday called Sweetest Day, which is basically Valentine’s Day but only lamer (if that is even possible). It was so evident that it had been created by American Greetings (located in Cleveland, OH) to sell a bunch of crap.

    • Damn straight people should get the hell off my lawn!

      I mean… I love holidays, I just hate crass and obvious commercialisation. And Sweetest Day sounds like the lamest holiday EVER.

  2. ana

    Great posts. Thanks for the whole blog. I’ve been following you and enjoying it for a while, finally I got round to letting myself known.

    I think it is an excuse for commercialism in Australia and every where else. There is no more celebration of either the “All Saints” or “All deceased” or even the passing from summer to winter. I don’t think there is any true celebration in all those costumes or cheap goodies. Maybe there is true celebration in whole families visiting the cemeteries in catholic communities, for example, or in the Mexican “dance of the dead”. There is no consumerism involved in any of them.

    • Hi Ana. Thanks for commenting. It’s nice to know people are reading when I send my thoughts out into the interwebs.

      I think you’re right – commercialisation of holidays happens throughout the Western world. It’s sad to see seasonal traditions reduced to a way for big business to make $$.

  3. I had NO idea that October 31 in Australia is just a regular day. Do all the big bags of mini-treats still go on sale November 1st? 🙂

  4. Pingback: Monday’s Top 5 | The Happy Logophile

  5. You do have a very valid point, and I agree with it. We don’t celebrate Halloween in India either, but still there are the costume parties, the trick/treat thingies.

    It’s fun for kids I guess, but we have more than enough Indian festivals to celebrate and I hate being pressured to participate in this as well. I have a young school-going daughter, so I am especially vulnerable to school and friend pressure :(.

    Thank God, Thanksgiving has not yet become a trend here.

    • It actually surprises me to find out that people in India are adopting the practices of American Halloween, although it probably shouldn’t. India has some of the most amazing festivals and celebrations. It’s sad that there’s so much pressure to move towards an American holiday, if only because it infers a movement away from traditional holidays.

      Although I haven’t (unfortunately) had the chance to visit India myself, I have a number of friends who’ve spent weeks/months exploring the country. One friend in particular happened to end up invited to a wedding feast, and listening to his stories just blew me away. I’d take that type of tradition and pageantry over an imported holiday any time.

  6. As an American, I feel Halloween is one of our better exports (slightly behind the light bulb, but waaaaaay ahead of, say, the Big Mac) and think you should consider yourself an official Halloween Ambassador.

    The world needs more holidays that center around committing pranks, terrifying small children, eating all the free candy you can, and not making women choose between dressing as a super hero or dressing slutty.

    • I actually have no rational argument to your point.

      Damn it, can’t you stick to being witty and wise on your own blog. Do you have to come over here and make me look bad? 🙂

  7. How sad for you! And yes, you do have a point. Real holidays are acceptable, but fake holidays (even if celebrated somewhere else) are dumb. I do feel bad for you though. I feel even worse you don’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving, although I knew that was an American holiday. I guess I just love the big turkey dinner! And then you don’t get Black Friday!!! How sad. 🙂

    • You know, I don’t even have a problem with people having Halloween parties and the like. Any excuse to dress up and drink copious amounts of alcohol, right? I just hate the fact that there’s no actualy Halloween spirit in Australia. There’s no tradition. The only reason Halloween is promoted is because it sells stuff. But I assure you we have plenty of our own holidays to celebrate. In fact, I’ve written my latest post on that very subject.

  8. Hmm. It’s curious… I have to wonder why you all don’t celebrate it. Many of you Aussies share a lot of the same Anglo/Western-European cultural background that we have in the US and Canada, from whence Halloween descended. Is it only because the seasons are opposite there, and therefore an annual fall-into-winter themed celebration of spookiness doesn’t make sense?

    I wonder if that small number of trick-or-treaters you’re getting are in fact the advance gaurd of an unstoppable army of ghouls and goblins intent on invading Australia in the years go come?

    • Actually, it’s because Halloween as is celebrated in America is purely an American tradition. Although it’s descended from British and European customs, trick-or-treating in costume has only been happening since about the 1950s in America (and Canada). Brits and Europeans don’t have the same modern customs, although they do tend to celebrate with bonfires and the sharing of treats and so forth. I don’t really know why the latter customs didn’t come to Australia, but it would be nice to be able to say it’s because of the difference in season. (I find it somewhat hard to believe, though, since we celebrate Christmas and Easter in the “wrong” seasons.)

      I would imagine that the practice will continue, though. Australia takes so many of its cues from America, and kids are raised watching Sesame Street and other American shows. But just because it’s somewhat inevitable that we’ll end up celebrating American holidays doesn’t mean I have to like it!

  9. I think it is a wonderful thing to have so much joy come from cultural exchange and wish there were more in the world, remember these experiences exist inside you so never lose them and don’t forget to share them where evere you go.

  10. LAWN? Try grass …. CANDY? Try lollies … don’t even get me started on “SIDEWALK” …..

    I have never had a kid knock on my door for this Halloween thing asking for LOLLIES – dressed as a pumpkin. Sounds fuity … therefore if I accidently open the door they will get fruit.

    i mean … really? Do we have to adopt every crass americanism?

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