Why I Still Hate Halloween (in Australia)

On October 31st last year, I published a post explaining why I hate Halloween in Australia. That post has turned out to be my third most popular post in the history of The Happy Logophile. (The two more popular posts are the ones I’ve had Freshly Pressed.) It even resulted in me having the opportunity to be a special guest speaker on a local radio station, presenting my opinion on Halloween as a “Social blogger and commentator”.

I’ve seen a resurgence of people winding up at my blog over the last few weeks with search terms like Why doesn’t Australia celebrate Halloween? and I hate Halloween and Australia Halloween stupid. So I figured I’d break this post out and reshare the reason 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 that man’s crazy.”

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 just a cranky old curmudgeon (get off my lawn!), or do I have a point?

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25 Comments

Filed under Opinion

25 responses to “Why I Still Hate Halloween (in Australia)

  1. auntypizza

    Couldn’t agree more. We don’t DO Halloween here. No-one knows what it’s for – we only know it’s done in America. Why do we have to adopt every bit of crass American culturally cringeworthy claptrap.

    • I wouldn’t call Halloween “culturally cringeworthy claptrap”. It does, after all, have strong historical, Pagan and Christian roots. It just doesn’t have any cultural significance in Australia. (Although if anyone would like to put forward a motion for an Australian Samhain Festival at the end of April, I’d be all for it!) If I was in the US during October, I’d be diving headlong into the Halloween festivities!

      • auntypizza

        I was probably a tad harsh! But to me it reeks of commercialism only benefitting shops that sell Halloween products. The only places I’ve seen it mentioned is a TV ad, and my local supermarket has gobs of Halloween stuff on offer.

      • Ugh. The supermarket Halloween displays make me so cross. I agree that in Australia, it’s all about the commercialisation. But in all fairness, the shops wouldn’t sell it if people didn’t buy it!

  2. I have a strong curmudgeon streak so it might be evidence for the opposition: however, I think you have a point about different cultural paradigms between continental America and other English-speaking countries. I never did trick-or-treating when I was young and do not feel it fits well with the UK manner of politeness and reserve.

    Several of my pagan and Goth friends really dislike the current prevalent form; the same dislike some Christians have for the commercialisation of Christmas.

    I have no direct testimony from the southern hemisphere; however I have heard rumour of several groups celebrating the sabbats based on the seasons and not the months to avoid the conflict between symbolism and the green fuse.

    • I know of a few pagan groups who celebrate Samhain in Autumn and Yule in the winter and so forth. It’s something that we’ve looked at doing as a family. It’s hard when your kids friends all do things the “normal” way, though, so we’re a bit half-and-half at the moment.

      Glad to know there’s another curmudgeon around! 🙂

      • I still celebrate gift-swapping-social-feast on 25 December myself to fit with family, so half-and-half is probably the price of a tolerant multi-cultural society.

        My curmudgeon is very happy today as I have realised the scaffold cage over the steps down to my front door makes it less attractive to trick-or-treaters as a source of sweets or a target for eggs. (As an aside my spell-checker suggests terror-stricken for trick-or-treaters )

      • I love your spell-checker.

  3. Wait – YOU DON’T CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING?!? Pumpkin pie, Jo!!!!! And turkey with stuffing! I just don’t understand.

    • Hahaha. You’re awesome, Kim.

      I know you’re joking, but the sad fact is that there are plenty of people here who would love to celebrate Thanksgiving so they can eat those foods. Holidays these days seem to be all about the trappings, and nothing about the sentiment. Still… Maybe I can arrange to be in the US for Thanksgiving one day. 🙂

  4. Susan

    I think that Halloween has become so popular because it’s one holiday that doesn’t discriminate. It’s not attached to a political or religious (despite historical roots cited) tradition. People can become someone else for a day and just have fun. Other holidays, even Thanksgiving, which is now often “commemorated” by native Americans and their friend as “Un-Thanksgiving” day. For example, for many years a group of people go out to Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay for a special sunrise ceremony. Others spend the time learning the true history of colonialism and fight the sterotypes of the gentle Indians and the Pilgrims. Also, Halloween, at least in California and other Southwestern states, has been attached to or combined with the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated in Mexico and among Mexican Americans and their friends. That has given it a broader more social and “meaningful” M.O. — respect for family and ancestors. That’s my take on Halloween, at least in the U.S. Whether this means anything for the popularity in Australia will have to be determined by you Aussies. 🙂

    • I think it’s great that people find their own way to celebrate holidays, and to hold to something that’s meaningful to them. I love the way the Day of the Dead has been incorporated into Halloween, and the way deeper meaning can be built into Thanksgiving. Regardless of the holiday or the history, if it helps people find a deeper respect for family, ancestors, and values, it’s a good thing.

      I guess I just find it hollow when it’s only the trappings of a holiday that are really celebrated. Which is, of course, what happens here in Australia.

      Thanks so much for your comment, Susan. Really interesting.

  5. I understand why you hate Halloween. I like it for lots of reasons, but one of them being it’s an unfussy holiday that is really for kids. i actually posted about Halloween today too, you and me – we’re on the same wave length. Also, it’s October 30! (I do hate the way adults insist on dressing up, getting drunk, and acting sleazy for it.)

    I get your point. I also think you’re a cranky crumudgeon, but not because of Halloween.

    • I read your post on Halloween just after I wrote mine, and thought the same thing — we’re totally on the same wavelength. Although if I’m ever in your neck of the woods for Halloween, I fully intend to dress up and get drunk with you. (I’m happy to skip the acting sleazy part.)

      And thanks for seeing past my issues with Halloween and recognising my true curmodgeonly nature. 🙂

      (Oh, an I didn’t post this on the 31st because I had a more important post for that day!)

  6. As a child in Scotland (a long time ago) we used to go out ‘guising. (Disguising.) We didn’t know about ‘trick or treat’ but we knocked on doors. If the person wanted to give us a ‘treat’ we had to perform for it. (Sing a song etc.)
    Now living in Australia, that’s a long distant memory. I dislike Halloween on religious grounds, but that’s my opinion. I do have concerns though. One is young children wandering the streets, knocking on strangers’ doors when we have had such publicity about pedophiles living in the community, and children that disappear. My other concern is disliking the practice of ‘egging’ the car of people who refuse. Trying to get raw egg off the windscreen, or anywhere else is a major pain.
    My husband is Australian. He, like you, maintains that Aussies doen’t celebrate Halloween… although each year there are more and more signs of it in the shops.

    • I know — the last couple of years, our local Woollies has been selling big orange pumpkins and carving kits. I see them and shudder. Plus there’s all the cheap bags of chocolates. (Although I admit I stocked up on them this year just so I don’t have to buy any lollies/chockies until after Christmas!)

      The idea of ‘guising sounds awesome, BTW. I like the idea of having to actually DO something for a treat!

    • I thought your historical summary was excellent, Jo, a case-study in how we’ve got to where we have. And the whole thing is so fascinating for us in the northern hemisphere, as the nights get longer and our atavistic fears of the darkness are amplified.

      My guess is that Mischief Night in Australia is misplaced, coming as it does when the days are getting longer and the darkness is dispersing, and that if Hallowe’en is ever going to be logically celebrated Down Under (as it is for us ‘Up Above’) it should be at the end of April. Then the whole idea of youngsters dressing up as the souls of the departed and demanding soul-cakes to appease them might make a lot more sense instead of being an excuse for licensed begging or possibly mayhem, bound up with unhealthy preoccupations with zombies and other horror themes.

      Oh, did I say that last bit aloud?

  7. Then when Christmas is over it will be Valentine’s Day in the shops, then Easter… round and round in circles. Just get a big jar and save all your gold coins in it. Then when you need to buy, you’ll have a big start!

    It’s a thought… if you can spare the one and two dollar coins. 🙂

  8. Claudia Bond

    As Australians now living in the US, Halloween is our favourite holiday, as it marks the start of the change of seasons and also holidays season here in America moving onto Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Year. actually it doesnt stop because we then go into St Valentines Day and Teacher Appreciation before the school year end. What amazes me is the level of celebration and yes they can go all full out (too commercial many Australians refer it) or simply sticking with the traditional meaning of the celebration, ie not going overboard. What i have come to conclusion is that home in Australia we dont celebrate life enough. And for me life is too short not to soak up every moment to celebrate with our kids and grandparents and community.

  9. I couldn’t agree more! I tried to have this conversation on Halloween just past and people just could not understand my perspective.

  10. Pingback: Kids These Days: A Contrast Of Values - Nanny Shecando

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