Right about now I’m about to channel my grandmother and possibly yours as well, but…“back in my day” October 31 was just another ordinary day on the calendar.
In those “simpler times”, costumes were reserved for birthday parties and pumpkins had two specific purposes – soup and Sunday roast.
Now of course it’s very different. October 31 is Halloween, and it’s a date that excites my children almost as much as a toy-laden Christmas and the endless offering of chocolate at Easter.
Clearly, it excites retailers as well, because I’m yet to make it out of Woolworths this month without being visually assaulted by jack-o-lanterns and ghoulish (ridiculously garish) plastic figurines.
But anyhoo, how did we get to here? When did Halloween become an Australian celebration and does the current incarnation have any bearing on tradition?
We’ll kick off with a little history lesson here, because it’s always important to know the facts before carving pumpkins, donning a witch’s hat, and knocking on a host of strangers’ doors.
Halloween is of course a reference to the Catholic celebration All Hallow’s Eve, which fell directly before All Saints' Day on November 1 and All Souls' Day on November 2.
The church picked this festival date for some pretty interesting reasons, mainly in response to a Celtic tradition that had arisen long before that was known as Samhain.
Samhain commenced at sundown on October 31 and as the University of Sydney explains, was “traditionally one of the two days of the year when the veil between the natural and supernatural worlds drop, allowing the spirits of the dead and denizens of the otherworld access to both worlds”.
Hmm spooky, and made even more so by the fact marking this occasion involved dressing up as something from those other realms.
So, that accounts for the current tradition of costumes, but what about the rest?
Trick-or-treating and carved pumpkins
Although trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving might appear American traditions, researchers go on to note, they too have Celtic origins.
“Trick-or-treating, dressing up in costume and knocking on doors requesting gifts, is also known from Scottish and Irish folklore," the University of Sydney goes on to explain.
The traditions made their way to the US with immigrants in the 1840s and much of the current US Halloween celebration actually owes its popularity to immigrant influence.
Now of course, America has embraced Halloween to the extreme, and it seems Australia is swiftly following suit.
Twenty years ago Halloween wasn’t such a big deal in Australia, but as of 2011 its popularity was growing.
At that stage, McCrindle Research noted, although Halloween was still considered the “least meaningful” occasion of the year by most Australians, 25 per cent of the population planned to celebrate it.
Now, that statistic is undoubtedly much larger, and much of this growing popularity is owed to corporatisation, the infiltration of American culture, and social media.
In other words, Halloween plays out on our Pinterest feeds, Facebook pages and of course the US TV shows we watch. Retailers then seize the opportunity to peddle additional purchase and we can’t help but feel a little bit inclined to get in on the action.
But is it such a big deal if we choose to adopt this holiday?
Deakin Business School researcher and consumer behaviour expert Dr Paul Harrison recently postulated that humans beings, by nature, are suckers for an event that brings us together.
“As 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,” he explained.
So it begs the question, this year, when perhaps community and ritual means more than ever before, will you be taking part? Come October 31 might we find you hacking into a poor unassuming pumpkin, repurposing the household broomstick, and marking the growing tradition that is Halloween?