why do we celebrate halloween in australia
Are you a fan of Halloween? With the influx of American culture into our society, there are polarising opinions about the commercialisation of yet another tradition. Yet each year, Halloween is becoming more prominent in Australia. There are more celebrations, better costumes, decorations, and a bigger aisle dedicated to Halloween in our supermarkets. But underneath the fake blood, cotton wool cob-webs and face paint, is a holiday that encourages community engagement. So should we be resisting or embracing it? How did Halloween actually start? Deakin Business School researcher and consumer behaviour expert Dr Paul Harrison says Halloween has become a вproduct of US cultureв, yet the history is vastly different to the tradition we celebrate today. Did you know Halloween originated as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain? People would dress up for the occasion to ward off ghosts before All Saints Day on 1 November. Followers of the Celtic religion believed that the barrier between our world and the world of ghosts, ghouls and spirits became thin at the end of summer and вAll Hallowвs Eveв would banish the evil spirits. Although Halloween as itвs now celebrated barely references its early traditions, Dr Harrison says cynics of the tradition should focus on the positive aspects of Halloween rather than the popularised version developed in the US. Why is Halloween so popular in America? When the Irish immigrated to the United States they brought with them their traditions, including Halloween. From then it has taken off and become the tradition celebrated today.
Americaвs 179 million Americans will celebrate Halloween this year, with consumers expected to splash $9. 1 billion on everything from decorations and candy to a costume that will win you the prize for best dressed. Despite the costumes, candy and pumpkins, there is still a community aspect of Halloween, which Dr Harrison says is a positive of the holiday and something to embrace. вThis is families gathering, children spending time together and going outside в whatвs wrong with that? в he says. So what about Halloween in Australia? In Australia, there are polarising opinions on the holiday being celebrated here. Dr Harrison says that the negative connotations surrounding the holiday are often a вknee- jerkв reaction due to its commercialisation by the United States. The perception the US is вtaking over Australia with their marketingв can turn people into cynics of the tradition, but Australia has a strong history of вborrowingв rituals from other countries, Dr Harrison explains. вWe have a strong history of adopting all sorts of rituals from other countries and cultures, so why should Halloween be any different to any other element of culture that we borrow from others? в Dr Harrison points out. Halloween is not the only holiday Australia has adopted. St. Patricks Day, celebrated on 17 March, celebrates the patron saint of Ireland, and is wildly celebrated across the nation. So too is Valentineвs Day on 14 February, a day associated with all things love. вAs human beings, we look for rituals, we look for community through the things we do, and as other community rituals and institutions such as churches or strong familial and neighbourhood linkages break down we look for ways to replace that,в he says.
But what is now the grassroots of the tradition в the children trick-or-treating, pumpkins being carved, and communities spending time together, can still be achieved without buying into the Halloween hype. вYou can still do Halloween, but you donвt need to buy Halloween,в Dr Harrison says. He adds that the community element is lost when the commercialisation of the holiday takes over. Dr Harrison believes Halloween has вcaught on entirelyв in Australia, and cynics should turn their criticisms towards the commercialisation rather than the grassroots ritual. Looking past the commercialisation of Halloween, you will find a holiday that brings people and communities together. Interested in learning more about how commercialisation affects society? Consider studying
or at Deakin. As someone who has always been known among family and friends as Christmas biggest fan, it takes a lot of courage to say what I am about to tell you all, but here goes: I think Halloween is now my favourite holiday. This has traditionally been, at least until recently, not a very Australian thing to say. For years, Aussies have thought of Halloween (mistakenly, I might add) as just another US import, like McMuffins and pronouncing data date-ah. Australians are warming to Halloween with the price of carving pumpkins having fallen from $30 per kilogram to $3.
But as the price of carving pumpkins has fallen from $30 per kilogram to $3, so, too has Australians aversion to all things spooky. Well, kinda, and I say kinda because Australians в with some exceptions вВ still seem to be dragging their collective feet when it comes to actively celebrating Halloween. Last year my friend and I put together an admirably creepy array of decorations, including polystyrene crows with red light-up eyes, in her front yard, yet were visited by only a dozen trick-or-treaters. As we shuffled back inside around 10pm, accepting that there would be no more callers, I couldn t help but feel a pang of homesickness for my former adopted home. You see, one of the things you learn to love when you live in America is the heart-warming anarchy of any given neighbourhood on the evening of October 31. On All Hallows Eve, it s as though America becomes the best version of itself. It s a world where a dude dressed as Michael Myers can leap out from behind a rose bush, brandishing a giant carving knife, and make the young family who just knocked on the door scream until they all collapse in giggles. See, this is how you celebrate Halloween: you dress up and you scare the ever-living crap out of each other, and everyone wanders around the streets until well after bedtime, and it s the best thing on earth. In 2013, a friend and I visited a legendary haunted house that an East Los Angeles resident had been putting on, in his backyard, for decades; each year he expanded and improved it. He does this for no other reason than to bring joy to the neighbourhood.
In the same way that certain streets and cul-de-sacs in Australia will put on newsworthy Christmas displays, Americans go bananas with their Halloween displays, from spooky front-lawn dioramas right through to professional-quality haunted houses. In San Diego s University Heights neighbourhood, a half-mile stretch of Maryland Street becomes a to Halloween that was so all-encompassing that by the time I visited, in 2014, and saw the singing animatronic pumpkins, I burst into tears of joy. This is, to me, the true meaning of Halloween: it s not about the candy, or who can come up with the funniest spooky pun for their Twitter username, or which sexy costume is the most inappropriate, but rather the simple joys of community. This is the part of Halloween I wish my neighbours and countrymen would get. As costume parties are the great social leveller, so too is Halloween a nearly magical way for neighbours to spend time together; everybody looks like a ding dong and we do it just to put smiles on the faces of little kids in costumes. Couple that with the much-needed catharsis of potentially being scared shitless by someone dressed as an undead Donald Trump (etc) and Halloween has tangible emotional benefits, too. Come Monday, I will don my costume and head out and about, and I will hopefully run into some fellow revellers, but I m not holding my breath for a massive turnout. Since I am also a card-carrying December 25th nut, at least I know in advance what I ll ask for Christmas this year: an even bigger, better Halloween in 2017.
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