Tag Archives: holidays

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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Monday’s Top 5

Welcome to the first Top 5 of a brand new year. This week has obviously been a time for introspection and reflection for many people. I had so many great blog posts to read, that choosing my top 5 was quite difficult. I hope you enjoy the ones I finally decided upon.

In the writing blogosphere this week, most people were either (a) silent, or (b) looking at their goals for the upcoming year. (I’ll be doing that myself tomorrow!) But a post from one writer stood out from the crowd when he talked about the importance of having unique holidays in Sci Fi and Fantasy books. Dan Thompson blogs at Making It Up As I Go, and regularly has insightful and interesting posts related to spec fic genres. Martian Holidays really made me stop and think about my own writing, and how I could improve the authenticity of the worlds I create. In his words:

In SF and fantasy, we often talk about that sense of not here and not now. It both takes us to another realm as well as provides fuel for our willing suspension of disbelief. After all, anything is possible on St. Carter’s Day, right? But these holidays have to be more than Christmas in disguise, where sarcastic St. Mick brings broken toys to all the bratty kids on his gazelle-powered flying stagecoach. Otherwise, they’re, well… lame. Like a silver aluminum tree with too much tinsel and not enough candy canes.

Meanwhile, Julie of Freckles and Fickle Take Over the World was thinking about a completely different type of book. Starting with the sentence:

Around my junior year in college, I officially got my own “place” (read: crappy apartment), and my grandmother gave me my very first Betty Crocker Cookbook. 

Julie takes us on a beautiful journey of Wilma & Betty. Her grandmother, Wilma, may have been no Betty (” It wasn’t at all uncommon to look in her cupboards and see a can of pears right next to the teacups, or to check for toothpaste in a bathroom drawer and find an arbitrary supply of batteries.”), but she sounds like exactly the type of grandmother anyone would be lucky to have.

Speaking of beautiful journeys, the Worrywart takes us on a journey of another type. When she and her husband went for a walk through a ritzy neighbourhood to get some dinner, she didn’t expect to end up looking like a homeless, delusional lady sitting on a bench outside a fancy restaurant. So while her post may have been titled Is This Any Way to House A Soul, it’s really a series of ruminations of the importance of not wanting for the sake of wanting. After all,

The only home that matters is the one we are walking around in, the one that houses our soul, this shell we call our body. In that sense, I am wanting. Not for beauty or perfection (or even anything remotely close to perfection – not even unjiggliness – I can live with jiggly – I’d be perfectly happy with the ideal weight of a six foot tall big-boned woman . . . or man), but just a decent place for my soul to live. Something healthy, strong, that can get up when it falls down – preferably something that doesn’t fall down (and I’d also like this body housing my soul to live in Paris for awhile).

This post from Critters and Crayons isn’t new. It was written and posted in September. However, I wasn’t following this amazing blog back then, and so when it was chosen by the author as her best post of 2011, I went back and read it. And wow. Just wow. The Best Ballet Recital Ever is not just a story of a child’s love for ballet transformed from excitement to disdain and back to joy — it is all of that, but it’s also so much more. This is the story of every man, woman and child who has ever taken a wrong turn in life, and been brave enough to admit defeat and change course; of every person who has rediscovered a simple joy they thought was gone forever.

And finally, a post that’s aimed squarely at the ladies in the audience. Stephanie from Momma Be Thy Name Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man. If you feel the same about the man in your life, you may possibly recognise some of this behaviour:

Predictive Discussion:  Conversations based solely on the one word I said that he heard. Me: Are you going to rearrange the baby seats in the van today? Him: Yes, I know she’s up. I’ll go get her!

Selective Narcolepsy: Only takes effect while watching anything I like, when I’m driving, or at other people’s houses.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Because every domestic activity requires an hour of rest in between, right?

 

 

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Bring on the Christmas Spirit(s)

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last few weeks, you’d be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that I’m not really into Christmas. Maybe you think I’m a bit of a Scrooge. Or, at the very least, that I merely go through the motions of Christmas, hating every bit of it.

First I complained about retailers asking my son about Santa Claus. Then I explained that I’ve told my son that Santa isn’t real. Finally, I blogged at Momma Be Thy Name about how hot Christmas is in Australia.

I haven’t, in fact, said anything particularly good about Christmas at all.

But let me make something clear:

I. Love. Christmas.

I really, really do. 

Christmas is a magical time full of stories and games, exchanges of gifts and fond wishes, food and drink, and love and laughter. It’s a time where we celebrate the beauty of a tree decked in trinkets, and pause to take stock of everyone and everything in our lives that we love. It’s a time where receiving a greeting from an old friend can bring tears of joy to our eyes. It’s a time when the Ghosts of Christmas Past loiter in our minds, reminding us of the wonder of family and friends and fond memories.

It’s a time for joy.

Not the manufactured-in-a-factory Joy that you can buy at the department store for $99.99 plus tax. Real Joy. The Joy of spending time with people who really, truly speak your language and know your history. The Joy of seeing a child’s face light up in delight before he’s even unwrapped the first present. The Joy of breaking bread with relatives you see only once, maybe twice, a year and wondering why you don’t make time to do it more open.

The Joy of Love.

The Joy of Peace.

The Joy of Christmas.

There’s definitely something magical about Christmas. 

But the magic of Christmas is not a fat man in a red suit, or a tree covered in sparkling lights, or a turkey roasting in the oven.

No, it’s something much, much better.

The magic of Christmas is the feelings and memories all those things bring with them.

The feeling of home, when you’re far from it. The memory of childhood, when you’re decades removed. The feeling of togetherness, even when you’re alone. The memory of people and places you once loved, whom you haven’t thought about all year.

Christmas is magical. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

And now I’m off to pour myself a drink and engage in some light-hearted banter (and debate) with my siblings and parents, while my children sleep peacefully in their beds. Bring on the morrow!

Happy Yuletide, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Saturnalia, and a Festive Non-Denominational Winter Solstice Holiday to all.

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Australians Have Holidays Too

A couple of days ago I blogged about why I hate Halloween in Australia. You may have read it. If so, you’re note alone. Over the last 48 hours, that post has risen to be the second most viewed post on this blog.

I feel a bit like a small-time celebrity.

That feeling was reinforced yesterday morning when I awoke to find a message from the producer of ABC Radio Perth asking me to contact her. I gave her a call, and she said that she’d read my blog, and enjoyed the voice of my writing. Then she asked if I would be a guest on the 720 ABC Radio Morning Show with Geoff Hutchison to talk about Halloween and my views on why Australians shouldn’t go trick-or-treating.

No prizes for guessing my answer.

Interesting facts about “appearing” on live radio via phone:

  • Even though no one could see me, I still put on make-up and made sure I was dressed in something more impressive than my PJs.
  • I spent most of the three hours between agreeing to be a guest and actually “appearing” doing intensive research. Of random facts. That had nothing to do with what I was going to talk about.
  • I spent the remainder of those three hours contacting my family and friends to tell them I was going to be on the radio.
  • When the time finally came… it was actually very easy. I was just having a conversation with a man on the phone, who was asking me about my experiences and opinions. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s stating my opinion!
  • All that aside, when I finished the conversation, all I wanted was a glass of wine. To celebrate. Yeah, that was it.

It was a great experience. And if any other radio producers are reading this blog, I’m available for sharing my thoughts and opinions whenever you like.

But on to the topic du jour…

Quite a few people commented on that earlier post about how sad it is that Australians don’t celebrate Halloween, because it’s such a great holiday. (And you won’t find any arguments from me, as I mentioned.) But it occured to me that, much as you may not have realised that Australians don’t celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Presidents Day, etc. etc. etc., you may not know much about the holidays that we do celebrate.

Allow me to enlighten you.

1st January: New Year’s Day — Generally spent recovering from  hangover, and then hitting the beach/park/great outdoors for a barbecue, some more drinks and a game or two of cricket or volleyball.

26th January: Australia Day — This is where we celebrate all things Australian. People display the Aussie flag, bake Anzac cookies, and get together with family and friends in the great outdoors for a barbecue, plenty of alcoholic beverages, and a game or two of cricket or volleyball.

April: Easter Friday – Sunday —  Ostensibly a Christian holiday, Easter is often observed as a time to go on a family camping trip to the great outdoors. For those who can’t get away for the entire holiday (which also falls in the middle of school holidays), at least one or two days are taken up with a barbecue, heaps of drinking, and a game or two of cricket or volleyball.

25th April: ANZAC Day — This is the day that we celebrate the sacrifice of the Anzacs in World War 1, and the service men and women who fight for Australia in general. The morning is taken up with veterans and current soldiers marching through the city streets, surrounded by well-wishers cheering them on. There are speeches and medals and music. At lunch time, everyone disperses to the pub, where there’s a traditional barbecue, drinking, and possibly a game or two of cricket or volleyball.

June: Queen’s Birthday — Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a holiday to commemorate the Queen. Apparently. Really, it’s the last long weekend of the year and happens just before winter hits in full force. So it’s last chance to either go camping, or head into the great outdoors for a barbecue, plenty of drinks, and a game or two of cricket or volleyball.

Labour Day — This holiday falls in a different month in each state/territory. (Fortunately we only have 6 states and 2 territories. If we had more than 12, we’d be in trouble.) I don’t really know what the point of it is. Generally, people use it as an excuse to get drunk, have a barbecue and play some cricket or volleyball.

November: Melbourne Cup Day — The Melbourne Cup: the Race that Stops the Nation. (Although it’s only the Victorians who get a day off work for it. So you’re lucky if you’re one of those 25% of Australians.) If you have no idea what that means, let me explain. It’s a horse race. At 3:10pm on the first Tuesday of November, there’s the biggest horse race of the year. Traditionally, this is celebrated with a breakfast of chicken and champagne, followed by the ritual of donning your best clothes (plus a hat for the ladies), having a “flutter” on the horses, and drinking all afternoon. Even if you’re one of the 75% of people who still have to work, everything stops for the race. And good employers provide champagne for their employees.

25th December: Christmas Day — Celebrated either with a hot roast lunch (despite the sweltering temperatures) or a barbecue. It’s mandatory to have a nap after lunch if you’re over 30, and then the evening is full of eating leftovers, plenty of drinking, and maybe a game of cricket or volleyball.

26th December: Boxing Day — Food. Drinks. Cricket (either on TV or in reality). Drinks. Board games. Drinks. Barbecue dinner. Drinks. And then a few drinks to round things out.

So, there you have it. As you can clearly see, we Australians have a vast array of holidays, and celebrate them all in our own inimitable fashion. What do you think — still feel bad that we don’t have Halloween?

Disclaimer: I don’t condone binge drinking, I just say it like it is. Also, other Australians may have different ways to celebrate these holidays. I welcome comments and alternate viewpoints.

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