Australians of a certain age delight in hating Halloween. They usually complain that it’s another example of encroaching Americanisation (even though it’s not) but I suspect that deep down it’s because it wasn’t part of their childhood. Towards the end of October, as pumpkins and cobwebs appear in shop windows and on fences, trees and verandahs, they begin their tut-tutting on talk-back radio and social media.
Far from being yet another greedy American custom, Halloween has its origins in the festival of Samhain, the beginning of the Celtic year. According to Celtic tradition, this is the time when the dead walk among the living; a time of fairies, ghosts, demons and witches. (http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/druid-festivals/samhain/deeper-samhain)
Just like Christmas and Easter, the Celtic festival was appropriated by the Christian Church, with November 1st becoming All Saints’ Day, and October 31st All Hallows Eve. In the United Kingdom the tradition of going house to house in costume can be traced back several centuries, although the expression “trick or treat” is usually linked to America in the 1920s. A Scottish colleague describes dressing as a witch and going to neighbours’ houses where they were given home-baked treats and money to buy fireworks for the upcoming Guy Fawkes Day.
As I listen to my peers complain about Halloween, I wonder what sort of childhood they had. I suspect that they enjoyed cracker night, when they could let off fireworks, often unsupervised – and sometimes in neighbours’ letter boxes. They could roam the streets and the neighbourhood bush, play cricket on the roads, and have fun with their friends after school without needing a “playdate.” Weekend sport was not prohibitively expensive and you would swim all day without applying sunscreen every two hours. There were no helicopter parents or fear of stranger danger; you knew your neighbours. This was not necessarily safer or better, but it meant that kids had a certain autonomy and spontaneity which appears to be lacking today.
Halloween is pretty well over and done with in one night. A few days later, many of the complainers will be having Melbourne Cup lunches and sweeps (often in their employers’ time), prior to starting the ever-lengthening round of Christmas parties with their (possibly American influenced) Kris Kringles.
So if kids want one evening of spontaneous fun, complete with costumes and sugar overload, I say go for it. But lets teach them to do it with respect for their neighbours and without a sense of entitlement.