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Halloween in Australia



© Warren Fahey

It is not surprising that Halloween has joined the list of Australian celebration days including Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, Red Nose Day, Secretary’s Day, Turn Off The TV Day, Earth Day, Pink Ribbon Day and Australia Day. The only genuine Australian day being the last – all the others are either American or British. It has become difficult if not impossible to avoid Halloween when the popular media highlights its arrival with Halloween episodes of popular television programs, particularly situation comedies, cartoons like The Simpsins and American news programs. Google also presented itself with a Halloween image for the day and we know how hard it is to avoid using Google. Facebook was also full of Halloween messages and, post Halloween chat and photographs. As an English speaking country we are, of course, a prime target for anything produced by the American cultural industry. One can only imagine in a few year’s time we will be celebrating Thanksgiving which, considering its symbolism, would make us another state of the union.

Halloween is celebrated in America, Mexico, Canada and, to some degree, Britain. To my knowledge it isn’t widely celebrated in Ireland which is peculiar considering the original Halloween originated with the Celts.

Halloween (a shortening of All Hallows’ Evening), also known as Hallowe’en or All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints Day. Much like Day of the Dead celebrations, the Christian feast of All Hallows’ Eve also incorporates traditions from pagan harvest festivals and festivals honouring the dead, particularly the Celtic Samhain. Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (also known as “guising“), attending costume parties, carving jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories and, more recently, watching horror films. It also seems many Australian schools have embraced the celebration with a dress up day. Scary stuff indeed when our educators so willingly embrace such an Americanism.

This year, 2011, set a benchmark for Australian Halloween – two newsreaders finished with a ‘Happy Halloween’ and at least one television quiz show, Channel Ten’s ‘Deal or No Deal’, saw the host, Andrew O’Keefe, dressed as a vampire for the entire program. Embarrassing!

Kings Cross, Australia’s most popular entertainment quarter, was awash with Halloween characters. Sadly many of the female celebrators deemed it suitable to wear Hugh Heffner giant bunny ears – not too sure how this linked in with Halloween except Old Hugh is looking like the living dead.

Trick or Treating, a custom where costumed young children go door-to-door looking for handouts of sweets (although I’d rather say lollies) is the most popular manifestation of Australian Halloween. This is great fun for the kids and it’s difficult to poo poo the idea of dressing up. It is also fun for the adults to see their kids and neighbour’s kids enjoying themselves.

One of the irksome aspects of our observance of Halloween for people of my generation is the knowledge that it was around this time of the year  (5 November) we celebrated Guy Fawkes Day or, as we preferred to call it, Cracker Night or Bonfire Night. The Politically Correct Police did it in because of the fear of self-damage from those nasty double bungers.

We do have a few ‘days’ which tend to more remembrance days – ANZAC Day, Black Friday, and Australia Day being the three most obvious. We have lost Wattle Day, Empire Day, Gould Bird Day and Arbor Day. Maybe we should start a campaign for some more dinki di days – Magpie Day, Mining Boom or Bust Day, Big Fat Executive Pay Rise Day, National Pie Eater’s Day and, for people like us, Whinging Bastard’s Day.