In defense of Halloween

12 Comments

 

I have a secret. I love Halloween. In an entirely sentimental, not-ironic way. I stocked up on lollies and icypoles for a week beforehand, making sure there were options for any dietary restrictions of the trick or treaters. I lined up a playlist of my favourite Halloween movies for after the last of the children came around. The plastic skull called Yorick I keep on my bookshelf took his place next to the bowls of lollies.

Jack-o-lanternHalloween is starting to gain some traction in Australia. But sure as Halloween rolls around, every year there are people who love to grumble about Halloween and how it's destroying Australian culture, whatever that is.

I know the arguments. Halloween promotes 'bad eating' — like any holiday celebration is about making healthy food choices. Halloween is so American, they say, as though Australians isn't a multicultural community already steeped in a bunch of different cultural traditions, or that harvest festivals aren't celebrated in many different countries.

Not to mention that if we wanted to critique the Americanisation of Australia, better targets than a holiday about costumes and lollies would the number of American TV shows and films we watch to the detriment of the Australian industry, or the complicated implications of our American military ties.

Which brings me to the next criticism. Some detractors like to point out that Halloween is pagan and therefore shouldn't be celebrated by Christians. Google 'Halloween Catholic' and you'll get pages of results arguing that Halloween is or isn't Catholic.

Halloween comes from a complex mix of influences. Some Halloween traditions connect back to Samhain, the Celtic ritual celebrating the beginning of the dark half of the year, where bonfires were lit and costumes were worn to ward off spirits. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is also a Catholic feast day that dates back to the first century CE.

Like Christmas Eve, Halloween is the night before All Saints Day and then All Souls Day, part of Allhallowtide festival, celebrating the lives of saints and martyrs. Further, a lot of what makes up Halloween in popular culture now, like trick or treating and carving pumpkins, is a melting pot of European folk traditions.

 

"I find a lot of comfort in putting out the same decorations and watching the same movies. Embracing old traditions, creating my own."

 

Historians disagree whether Pope Gregory III moving this holiday to coincide with autumn festival was a deliberate attempt by the Church to entice more people to convert, or just a coincidental melding of cultural practices. But in the mire of historical complexity and degrees of separation, celebrating Halloween is no more pagan than iconic elements of other holidays, such as the Christmas tree, which has roots in Germanic pagan tradition.

But for all its naysayers, at its heart, Halloween is a holiday that celebrates community and ritual. Food is part of it, sure, but unlike the cold reception I would get every year when I trick or treated as a child, every year I hang a Halloween sign on the front porch so that kids know my house is 'Halloween friendly'.

I get to chat with families who live near me that I would otherwise probably never get a chance to know, and see kids light up when I compliment their costumes. I find a lot of comfort in putting out the same decorations and watching the same movies. Embracing old traditions, creating my own. That's part of why I love it: as a kind of culture-blending holiday, there's room for many types of Halloween celebration.

The 31 October is so many things to so many people. The fact that Halloween has endured for so long and in so many different forms is a testament to how much we desire connection. Connections to our past, connection to the dead, connection to one another. I don't think that's such a bad thing to celebrate.

 

 

Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, Halloween

 

 

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HALLOWEEN CHERISHED (Haiku Form) Halloween thin times walk the edge of life and death respect —- remember All hallows eve comes our passed-on ones remembered rite of reversal Our Celtic Samhain Mexican day of the dead All such have their place Coming to full life We stand on Giants’ shoulders Both dead and alive 31st October 2018
John Cranmer | 31 October 2018


In "defense" of Halloween. Another offense to some in the English speaking world, no doubt
john frawley | 01 November 2018


Thanks Neve, always a pleasure to see a piece from you in Eureka Street :-) I'm just a tiny bit sniffy about Halloween, simply because the way in which it manifests itself each 31st October shows no connection with the AllHallowsTide Christian celebration of the Eternity-Communion of all the Saints and saints. Ghouls and zombies - c/w dripping blood - are fun but miss the point. If we were to reclaim our celebration of All Hallows, we might do worse than bundle together All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day rather than arbitrarily separate them out (for who's to say who is 'saint' and who isn't?), and include a Vigil celebration of All Hallows' Eve like we do with Easter, Pentecost, and John the Baptist (and in a practical way, if not strictly part of the liturgical calendar, Christmas). And immediately after our Vigil liturgy...? PARTY!! WOOHOO!!! Outrageous over-consumption of sugary treats, including vegetarian/gluten-free/non-dairy lolly options, all with sustainably-produced and biodegradable wrappings, naturally!
Richard Jupp | 02 November 2018


I used to love Halloween (or Dookie Apple Night, as Mum called it) as a child. That was long ago, though, in another place. Hurrying home from school in a foggy twilight, I could easily contemplate the mysteries of life, death and resurrection (though mainly death and skeletons and the importance of not being outside at midnight, when the dead broke out of their graves...). That's all gone now, the superstition and fear, but also the mystery. I don't love Halloween any more. That's not because it's pagan or American. It's because it's so sanitized. Cute, clean and safe. No mystery, just another of the mysteries celebrated by the worshippers of Mammon, rather like our Christ-free Christmas.
Joan Seymour | 02 November 2018


'Defense' or 'defence'? (I imagine this to be the offense/offence john frawley) - etymology is Middle English from Old French 'defens' from Late Latin 'defensum' and 'defensa', past participles of 'defendere', 'to defend.' I would say the ayes - or in this instance, the S's - have it!!
Richard Jupp | 02 November 2018


No doubt " defense" was deliberate , but I find it so annoying, that I had to force myself to read the article ! There's not much about American culture I like, especially their obsession with guns ! We might tolerate their Halloween custom , but we don't all like or accept wrong spelling !
Maureen Thomas | 02 November 2018


I'm with you Neve (as usual...) My blended family grandchildren (Catholic and nonbeliever!) look forward to Halloween precisely because there are adults like you who can just for one evening stop taking life so painfully seriously. In the UK of my childhood we did much the same for Bonfire Night totally oblivious of its darker origins. Personally I'm happy that the stores have something to delay the ludicrously early focus on a Christmas that is at least as problematic if we choose to make it so.
Margaret | 02 November 2018


Thanks Neve for this wonderful article. As a child, Halloween had no great meaning to me and I suspect my parent protected me against any connections with Satan and/or Americana . In recent years my young kids have embraced this day and it has become a part of our annual family calendar. We spend time together preparing outfits, decorating the house and carving pumpkins. We enjoy meeting our neighbours and building community on our street. There are many great values that can be taught, including giving thanks for the generosity of others. That said, I have always struggled to connect it with my Catholic faith. Your article challenges me to make those connections with my kids and ensure they understand Halloween as All Hallows Eve. It is strange that in secular society we are happy to embrace concepts of death around Halloween, but having attended the All Saints Day Liturgy at my children's school yesterday it was completely sanitised from the concepts of death and martyrdom. No one wants to traumatise a kinder aged child with photos of the altar of the Skull Chapel, Kaplica Czaszek, but perhaps as the celebration of Halloween grows in Australia we are being provided a new way of engaging with our kids about the importance of All Saints Day and All Souls Day?
Jonathan Campton | 02 November 2018


Indeed Richard, the S's have it if we are speaking French or Latin - but not when we are speaking English. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th Edition, 2011, records the word - defence (US defense). My point is that defense is an incorrect imported US abomination of English just as is the imported US abomination of commercial Hallowe'en. We've cheapened and lost much of our heritage and culture at the altar of brash American ignorance. Let's at least keep our language!!!!!
john frawley | 02 November 2018


john Frawley might I respectfully suggest that we are also in danger of losing the biblical (Proverbs 6:16-19) connotations of 'abomination'?
Margaret | 02 November 2018


Ah john frawley, you mustn't blame Neve for the spelling as nowhere in her article has she used the word. It appears only in the heading, an sub-editorial responsibility ! But I agree with your abhorrence of both the spelling and the 'festival'.
Ginger Meggs | 03 November 2018


Let us keep our language. You've probably lost it already. Do you pronounce ordinary like ordinry, or ordinary? Similarly hundreds, probably, of other words that end in ary. Or words ending in ony, like ceremony, or do you pronounce the last part as moany? Do you say gotten, or got. Mobs of others. Your pronunciations, and mine, are going to die with us.
Gavan | 12 November 2018


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