Ah, it’s that time of year again when it’s not alarming to see bones scattered in your neighbours front garden, and children start salivating of the lollies they’re going to collect. It does seem incongruous celebrating Halloween in Australia – there is nothing remotely spooky about a warm spring evening – but of course Halloween has travelled to us from a time and place not our own.
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, were coming.
Last year I incorrectly said that Halloween travelled from the UK to America, when in fact Halloween’s origins are Irish. When it did travel 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.
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.
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 scariest thing about October in Australia is the swooping maggies, and the beginning of snake season, but where’s the harm in playing pretend – after all isn’t that what modern Halloween is all about?