Welcome to October. One could argue that 2020 has been a year-long horror story but just to up the ante we’ve entered the month of Halloween and your local supermarket has probably set up their corner of fake cobwebs and witches hats. But given that we live in Australia, what’s the deal with that?
We tend to think of Halloween as an American tradition, brought to us by television and the internet, but of course the origins of Halloween go much further back, probably originating with the Celts. Following conquest by the Romans and the spread of Christianity, the original Celtic religion was subsumed and altered to make it more palatable to those in power – Christianity has a history of putting Christian observances over existing spiritual observances in order to supplant those traditional observances.
Historically though, Halloween had a spiritual or religious base. It happened at a time in the year when winter, and all the hardships winter manifests, was coming.
When Halloween travelled from the UK to America it wasn’t universally celebrated, but as the nation grew with new immigrants it became more widespread. It also lost much of its connection with death, the dead and the supernatural, and the Halloween we see depicted on our TV screens evolved.
Ironically, many of the Halloween traditions of America have made their way back to the UK. Like little birds returning home.
So, What About Us Aussies?
Although Australia was colonialised by the British, it’s a stretch to say we have any cultural or historical link to Halloween. Even the least cynical among us have to admit it’s probably driven by the media our children watch, and supermarkets wanting to make a buck. That said, we’re also a multicultural country and for those Aussies with a North American background, being able to share a fun tradition is probably welcome.
In any other year, classrooms might be filled with children getting excited as the night draws closer, planning their costumes and their haul of lollies. Maybe you’ve added some Halloween crafts into your bag of tricks? Or discussed the true origins of All Hallows Eve?
Although many see it as yet another example of America cultural imperialism, I find Halloween pretty harmless. And really, it’s a chance to dress up, laugh and get out into the your community. The weather is completely inappropriate – there’s nothing ominous about spring – and any given year the number of households participating changes, but most people have fun.