Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en in Australia- harmless fun or the forces of evil?

I wrote most of this then ran out of energy that evening to upload photos and press the final "publish post" button then saw that "everyone" in the blogosphere was writing about Hallowe'en then decided to press publish leaving the date stamp intact. Better late than never...

Has anyone else in Australia- or at least Melbourne- been surprised by how much exposure Hallowe'en is getting this year? The supermarkets and department stores seem full of "stuff" (mostly plastic and/or brightly coloured) and my Facebook updates are going wild with indignation about it. There was pumpkin carving at kindy (supplied by a Canadian dad, to be fair) and they had a dress-up day. I even caught onto the spirit by helping the boys indulge their passion for safety scissors and paste, and we made orange paper lanterns and drew faces on pumpkin shaped cutouts. And I've coordinated the laundry so that the boys can wear their Gymboree glow-in-the-dark skeleton pyjamas tonight- bought not with Halloween in mind but rather as a vague anatomy lesson (they have loved them for several months- picture adapted from the Gymboree website because my glow in the dark photos never worked)
The boys won't be trick-or-treating because I am too lazy and they don't know what they're missing they are too little to take out, but in future years I would consider using an idea from Maxabella of doing a pre-Hallowe'en letterboxing with a subtle "opt-in" sign for houses to put out to show they are welcoming to cute and ghoulish visitors. And if any trick or treaters show up at the door we have something to offer (other than boxes of sultanas which I discovered last year were definitely not considered treats!)

Our Halloween activities have all been very harmless- or have they? With all the complaints my friends have been registering I started to feel guilty that I was falling into some greater social trap. The major arguments against Halloween are:

- "it's American" Well, actually, at lot of the traditions originate in Britain and Ireland, and looking at posts like Little Garden Helpers and hearing from a few Scottish friends I think that the Brits and Celts are underrecognised in these parts for their Hallowe'en contributions. While the US has certaibly built Halloween up into a huge secular event (which it isn't, see below) with Halloween specials on the telly, Hallmark cards and the rest, plenty of people elsewhere celebrate Hallowe'en or similar occasions like The Days of the Dead in Latin America. I also note (with respect to my friends!) that a number of the naysayers apparently have little problem with Glee, Hawaiian holidays, Thanksgiving, many of the other good things that come from the US...

- "it's promoting devil worship" So witches, evil ghosts and other anti-Christian scaries are central to Hallowe'en, and certainly it has its roots in Celtic festivals. However the early Church were happy with (and had their own motives for) including elements of pagan festivals into the religious festival- just like they did for Christmas and Easter (holly and bunnies, anyone). Hallowe'en- All Hallows Eve- is the leadup to All Saints (Hallows) and All Souls days. In darker and more superstitious times, getting scared silly by seeing the spooks and scaries coming out was probably a great way to make the congregation thankful for the good guy saints, and also think about the saving of their own souls. Classic good cop-bad cop.

- "it's commercial exploitation of kids and a money making exercise" This is, to my mind, the most valid criticism and one to which I half subscribe. I have no doubt that a lot of the increased interest in Hallowe'en this year stems from the increased exposure we have through the shops. Carvable pumpkins for $25 and all manner of plastic crap down to purple and black tinsel are all pretty clearly intended for us to spend money- before they get us to spend money on chopped down trees, all manner of plastic crap and red and green tinsel. But I think kids can get the spirit of Hallowe'en without the big spend. Maxabella's awesome $2-shop-with-modification costumes are a good example, and the internet has a zillion more home made costumes that aren't at all difficult. And correct me if I'm wrong, but most kids have something along the lines of a dress-up box. It's not whether your child looks like their character (who's ever seen a person in a white sheet and thought it was a ghost?) but whether they feel like it. Our decorations cost a few cents for the paper and glue, and about 10 fun minutes to make all of them (I know it was no longer because my kids wouldn't sit still longer than that). If parents are feeling pressured to spend more than they want on Hallowe'en, then- like the Christmas pony- they can just draw limits. And as for pressuring the neighbours, the opt-in system for receiving trick-or-treaters I mentioned is a great way to only include those who want visitors. I'm actually looking forward to meeting some of the older kids in the neighbourhood if they want to stop by our house tonight.

To me, Hallowe'en isn't a big deal either way- it's one of those minor days on the calendar, like St Patrick's Day or Bastille Day. It's fun to celebrate, and to learn about why and how other people celebrate it, but- like St Patrick's Day or Bastille Day- it's not a threat to our way of life or our culture, but just an excuse for fun, however you prefer (or don't prefer) it.

That's my take on Hallowe'en- what's yours?


MMBB said...

I've noticed St Patricks day is picking up popularity as well. The only difference is they don't knock on my door lol

I think Australia loves any excuse for a party. When my kids have grown up more I'll probably feel different about Halloween. I loved the idea as a kid, I remember watching the Simpsons bringing hoardes of candy home to pig out on, and I wanted that too!

I really like that idea that Maxabella said about about the ribbon. Even balloons would work. Or, you know, houses with Halloween decorations. Though I haven't seen any houses decorated as yet. Just kids lol

ilipilli said...

I'm not a fan. I'm not quite sure why - I don't really like people dressing up as zombies; the idea of sending children off to doorknock all by themselves all over the neighbourhood makes me a bit nervous; and I tend to avoid any opportunity for my kids to eat junk food (boring mummy!!). Part of it comes from not being prepared, every year (Oh no, didn't buy any lollies, must turn all lights off and hide so we don't disappoint kids) and especially having been well-trained from only being able to give out wrapped and sealed sweets in the US. Actually, I think it's as much about the junk food aspect of it as anything as I don't like giving it to other people's children either!!

I was joking yesterday that schools should use it as a fundraising opportunity for charity instead (eg instead of asking for junk food, I'm asking for a donation because I'm going to swim ten laps!) and someone else wrote the same thing in a letter to the SMH today. I'd much rather give a kid a charity donation than junk food.

This is hilarious. I can't believe I've just written all of this in response. But like you, I will bite the bullet and post it :)

ilipilli said...

PS - I know Thanksgiving *is* a distinctly American celebration, but I wish we celebrated that here! I LOVED Thanksgiving. The idea of a non-religious holiday for every person to celebrate, that is all about families and people coming together to share a meal... bring it on.

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