It is approaching that time again; the shops are filling with witches hats, monster masks and plastic weapons of all sorts. We, the older members of the public wander around with bemused expressions, confirming in our heads which stores obviously have American head offices and thus think Halloween gear will sell well here. Granted there is a small contingent of my friends who flood the $2 shops at this time looking for the oddity that will finish off their LARP outfit, or to pick up some cheap fake-blood of face paint, but they’re few and far between. For most of us Halloween is chance to hold a dress-up dance party, because any excuse will do really, and get really drunk in our frilliest and/or blackest gear.
There may be a few small areas, particularly friendly cul-de-sacs, where the parents will band together to get their kids dressed up and out of their hair for 30-60 minutes, but there is no real trick or treat here. Any kid knocking on my door is likely to get a strange look followed by cursing as I struggle to find something, we just don’t go in for all that trick-or-treat stuff. (One American girlfriend from years past used to call it obesity-or-vandalism and it kind of stuck in my head). No, here Halloween is for adults, alcohol, and horror movie marathons.
For most of us the day passes unnoticed and unremarked, maybe there will be a few enthusiasts but this tradition hasn’t got that much of a following down under. I used to have a few Wiccan friends who would all bemoan the Christian hijacking of their sacred day, and before that I grew up with a Catholic family lamenting the pagan associations of their holy day. Yet let’s face it, the holiday belongs to the American candy companies and a handful of Chinese sweatshops that churn out rubber masks, faerie costumes, and witches hats.
I guess down here beneath the equator things are a little different, this isn’t the end of summer event it is on the other side, Samuin should really be six month earlier/later for it to make any sense. Your Samhain, is our Beltane, and vice versa. For us there isn’t the move into the dark months where the power of the sun fades and the primitive fear of the long dark can be exposed, acknowledge, and even mocked in a safe environment. Not that Aussie winters are really to be feared, we’re got such a mild winter that the fear of ice and starvation that so motivated the ancient Celts is completely alien to us. The Australian fears at this time aren’t of witches and warlocks, of night time predators and freezing death, but of drowning, snake bites, and shark attacks as the sunburnt land warms up and its population heads to the beach.
Yet for the whimsical and curious there is certain majesty to the whole concept of Halloween, from the Celtic tradition of opening up the barrows to the Latin day-of-the-dead celebrations, there is a wealth of tradition that makes a young nation like mine salivate intellectually. It is so easy to see why the early Americans appropriated all these mixed customs for themselves and hammered it into an eclectic mish-mash of concepts and legends. It’s less easy to understand how it got commercialized and decked out into consumerist kitsch, but that is the American way, the patriotic façade of gaudy baubles and shallow metaphors packaged for mass consumption and coated with extra sugar.