A haunting holiday

31 October 2013

Written by: Louise Bianco

For some Australians, today is Halloween, which means dressing the kids up in costumes and hitting the streets for a night of candy collecting.

For others, it’s a good time to close your curtains and pretend you’re not home.

However, somewhere amongst the litany of US-inspired Halloween costumes, trick-or-treating and candy overload, the meaning behind the holiday has been lost.

3615212504_3dc6878776_oBecause Halloween is not part of Australian tradition or culture, misinformation surrounds the origins of the day.

The idea of taking to the streets dressed in scary costumes begging for candy may have begun in North America but the real celebrations stem from European tradition.

The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain – the pagan festival that marked the end of summer – the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living.

During Samhain, the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the other-world.

People gathered to light massive bonfires to honour the dead and to aid them on their journey to the afterlife.The aim was to keep evil spirits away from the living.

Donning ugly masks supposedly confused the spirits and stopped the dead from identifying people they may have disliked when they were alive.

But with its roots established, the question of Halloween’s place in Australian society remains.

Arguably, our increasing fascination with the celebration is largely due to American pop-culture, despite it having limited relevance on this side of the world.

And although it’s difficult to determine how many people actively celebrate Halloween in Australia, it’s impossible to deny the celebrations are starting to catch on.

These days, you’re not just limited to trick-or-treating. Families are opting to host parties and/or decorate their homes in the same way they would with Christmas decorations. Just swap the reindeer on your roof for big black spiders hanging from your balcony.

Jesse Wilkinson, a music teacher, is openly obsessed with Halloween, choosing to celebrate it every year.

“I went trick-or-treating in my younger years and nowadays I have a house party every year for the occasion,” Wilkinson says.

“I go all out with decorating the place to look like something from the Goosebumps TV show. It’s just a bit of fun.”

Retailers, unsurprisingly, are encouraging this surge in popularity, stocking more and more Halloween merchandise each year.

Supermarkets, news agencies and discount stores have been filled with Halloween-themed costumes and novelties for weeks.

From a consumer perspective, it’s easy to see why retail outlets are pushing for Halloween. In the same way Valentine’s Day has become a commercialised Hallmark Holiday, Halloween in Australia could be set to follow in its footsteps.

It is estimated that Americans spend $6 billion annually on Halloween, with candy generating $2.4 billion in sales. This makes it the second-largest commercial holiday in the US.

Despite the push by retail outlets for consumers to buy Halloween merchandise, it’s obvious not everyone is keen on celebrating the event. For those who are interested in participating on the night, there are some ways you can let trick-or-treaters know.

Brad Moore, a former La Trobe University student, explains how his family has handled having new trick-or-treaters in their area.

“My family got a letter in their mailbox from one of the people in the area, which said they know that some people do, and some people don’t, celebrate Halloween,” Moore says.

“They put a balloon in the envelope and asked that if people were willing to have trick-or-treaters at their door if they could put the balloon on the letter box so they know what houses to visit and what ones to leave be.

I thought it was a pretty good idea. Last year we had heaps of kids come.”

Only time will tell if Australians will embrace Halloween with the fervour and (haunting) abandon of Americans.

Until then, it might be time to put on a skeleton costume and head out trick-or-treating. It could be a lot of fun.

Featured image:  Pedro J. Ferreira

Louise Bianco Louise Bianco is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University, and is a staff writer for upstart. Follow her on Twitter @louiseeee___