October Down Under

It’s now October and the countdown to All Hallows’ Eve has begun. It’s not nearly so much of a big deal here as it is in North America or its place of origin, the British Isles, but sooner or later the ‘spooky’ themed paraphernalia will start appearing in shops. Halloween has long held an interest for me, but I’m never really as excited for it as I’d like to be. I think this has a lot to do with that odd disconnect that we in the Antipodes have with seasonal celebrations (which is to say, those that originated in the Northern Hemisphere).

I have no doubt that the Aboriginal peoples of this continent had their own traditions for marking the turn of the year, but in all my eighteen years growing up here I have never learnt or heard anything about them. Obviously there’s something pretty off about that, but that’s a matter for another discussion. In any case, all of our widely celebrated festivals were imported from Europe. Of course, America and Canada are the same in that respect but, crucially, their seasons are in sync with Europe’s, while Australia’s* are all topsy-turvy. Hence why we celebrate Christmas in the second hottest month of the year and Easter when it’s about to get cold and rainy. Now, it’s possible to hand-wave Christmas and Easter on the basis that they are Christian holidays that aren’t meant to be associated with a season, but that just doesn’t cut it for Halloween – a purely pagan celebration**. Yet here we are gearing up for a distinctly Autumnal festival at the beginning of Spring.

My university campus garden in late September.
My university campus garden in late September.

Halloween always turned out to be fairly mediocre when I was a kid, and I’ve realised that there are two reasons why:

(1) Nobody pays much attention to Halloween in Australia (or at least in my home city), except for party shops and other people looking to make money out of it. This means that hardly anyone bothers to decorate, inside or visibly from the street, and you learn that the houses that aren’t decorated don’t have sweets either. So if you’re out there in your hot and itchy costume looking for lollies, you spend most of the time searching for a tacky plastic pumpkin on someone’s front gate. All of this is related to…

(2) It’s just the wrong damn weather to be celebrating Halloween. Not only is it entirely the wrong time of year (pumpkins are out of season), but Australia is generally much hotter than the places where Halloween is a big deal. Imagine going trick-or-treating on a 30 degree afternoon with the sun blazing, bees buzzing and flowers blooming. Imagine tramping around the almost empty neighborhood in a heavy black cloak, with a sweaty plastic mask on your face, hoping against hope that someone will give you something other than Redskins.

Because chocolate would melt, of course.
Because chocolate would melt, of course.

Do that for a few years and you get pretty tired of the whole palaver. Eventually I gave up on the modern (read: Americanized) Halloween and started researching its Celtic origins instead. I have found this far more engaging, although it’s still disappointing when no one else is interested in anything other than free sweets (if they’re under eleven) or the odd costume party. But I always notice when it’s coming up and I still change my computer background to a squash-and-autumn-leaves theme. It’s a distraction from the blowflies and the sweltering heat.

* And New Zealand’s, and any other British colony in the Southern Hemisphere.

** I know it’s been syncretized with All Hallows’ Day/Eve, but I think that if you asked the average Aussie when that was they’d give you a blank look.

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3 thoughts on “October Down Under

  1. I’ve been asked to organise a halloween party for a mix of adults and kids – lady is a Brit but really not to sure what to do, not that much online that would work here – like you said too American and not really cold enough here for some of the stuff. I am thinking spooky house theme,,maybe that would work. Any advice welcome, you can see what I end up with next month on my blog…. warmwelcomes.wordpress.com

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    1. Hi, I’m not sure if I can be of much use, seeing as we don’t entertain very often, but that sounds like an interesting challenge! A spooky house theme seems like a good place to start, and it should be easy to find supplies at a local party store. You can get themed napkins and all sorts of things, depending on how kitsch you want to go 😉 On the other hand, you could go for a more traditional Irish/Scottish vibe, although I’m not sure how interested the kids would be (I mean, I would have been absolutely wrapped as a child, but I was a bit different). I know of some Irish Halloween foods like barnbrack (a type of fruitcake) and soul cakes, which I might try myself, and there traditional games like apple-bobbing or snap-apple. Decent pumpkins are usually hard to come by in Australia, especially at this time of year, but you could make lanterns out of something else (doesn’t have to be a vegetable) and put tea-light candles in them. The Irish used to carve lanterns out of turnips, and the purpose was to keep malicious spirits from the Otherworld at bay. Halloween was also a time for story-telling, spooky or otherwise. Good luck, and I hope that some of this is helpful!

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