Happy Halloween

For YEARS I tried SO hard to fight it.

It’s some American thing.

It means nothing here.

It’s just about commercialisation like everything else.

Halloween crept up on us Aussies slowly, sped up more recently due no doubt in large part to social media and the digital shrinking of the world. I didn’t know anything about the origin of the day itself but thought that maybe it was about ghosts and ghouls and didn’t think that my kids or I needed to actively participate in it. It was an American thing and meant nothing in Australia beyond yet another way to sell us more shit. But with each passing year, as the number of knocks on our door seemed to increase, I begrudgingly handed out sweets. And then more recently I began to make sure that I was stocked up, especially for the younger kids who turn up early, dressed up and trick or treating. Or the creepier looking older ones.

Then my youngest wanted to dress up even if he wasn’t trick or treating.

So I decided to do what every book nerd does when they don’t know something: read about it.

And to be honest I was surprised at what I learned.

Like the fact that, despite the mostly commercial nature of it in modern times, and despite popular belief that Halloween traditions stem from the pagan roots of ancient harvest festivals, there is a lot of dispute that it’s actually a Christian celebration. In fact there are many cultures which dedicate the 31st of October through to the 2nd of November to celebrate the dead, including saints and martyrs as well as deceased loved ones and ancestors. In Christianity this three day period is known as AllhallowtideHallows refers to saints, and the word Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve, as traditionally the vigil began the night before. The first day of November is All Saints Day, while the second day of November is All Souls Day, a day we remember the people we loved who have passed. So maybe while I was being dragged to Mass by my grandmothers on both of those days as a child, was I actually kind of celebrating Halloween anyway, just minus the candy?

In Mexico October 31st is a public holiday known as Day of the Dead, and marks the start of the three day period which focuses on remembrance of lost loved ones. The widely recognised images of vividly decorated skulls is familiar to many of us, whereby sugar skulls are decorated with bright colours and the names of deceased loved ones, and then either given to children as gifts or used as decoration. The colourful sugar skulls are often painted on to faces as part of costumes for the celebrations, and are frequently the subject of memoriam tattoos to commemorate the death of a loved one.

As for the pagan roots, the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain began on the evening of October 31st, and marked the end of Summer and the harvest season. Many cultures both ancient and modern believe that at this time the boundary between our world and the other side is thinnest, and spirits can cross over with ease. Accordingly, during Samhain people made offerings of food and drinks to both appease the spirits and therefore protect their crops, and also to ensure the favour of God. All of which is actually not that spooky or demonic sounding at all.

I was also surprised to learn from a local lady, while shopping in her store for kids sized fangs, that in her native England Halloween is a big deal. At my surprised reaction that her family and town go all out with bonfires and parties, she reminded me that whichever theory you believe in as to the very origins of Halloween, it’s a European tradition, carried to the Americas by Irish and Scottish migrants, much like Santa Claus.

And despite witches being one of the most common images linked with Halloween I could find no historical link. Most modern Pagans and Wiccans hold more belief in the traditional Samhain instead, and while most will not adhere to ancient practices they will usually mark this time as an observance of the dead. {And let’s not get me started on the whole topic of witches: a whole other, and actually very feminist, subject.}

So in the end I decided to stop overthinking everything as I have a tendency to do and just have fun with it. So Mr 8 will be dressed up as Dracula, or as he put it, a super cool vampire please, while he hands out candy. I’ve even grabbed myself a witch costume despite what I just said because it’s basically my favourite never-realised ambition and the best excuse to wear one. I’m all stocked up with candy and ready for trick or treaters, and at the risk of sounding stupidly nerdy, knowing more about what it’s all about actually makes a difference. And none of the traditional origins of Halloween are that far removed from either my religious beliefs or my superstitious ones or my out-there open minded ones.

So happy Halloween to all my friends wherever and however you celebrate it. Or not.

  1. Happy Halloween! Being a huge horror movie nut I love this holiday. You’re so right about it creeping up here. When I was at uni we wanted to throw a party and there was absolutely NO decorations available (this is back in the late 90s) and we had to dig really deep to find the simplest things like cobwebs and skeletons. Forget about carving pumpkins! Now there is a PLETHORA of shit out there…time to have another party me thinks 🙂


    1. Yeah, there are so many Halloween parties now. Happy Halloween!


  2. We don’t do it and I worked out why yesterday it is the dressing up and the decorating! But I am super happy for anyone else who does.


    1. We did no decorating and to be honest I lasted about half an hour until the wig started giving me a headache!


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