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Observing October



In these times of heated social media diatribes, political Greco-Roman wrasslin’ and semi-permanent lockdowns (cue the mandatory beating of my Melburnian breast), I have decided to observe October as a month to observe other people observing things. For me, there was a sense of self crumbling under the weight of being house arrested for the good of all. Gravitas, like gravity, can be crushing; I knew I needed a break from howling at the Moon (16 October is the ‘international observe the Moon night’). So to the calendar I turned.

In my enforced isolation, it was a month too early for world hello day (21 November) and yet a month after I had sloppily missed international talk like a pirate day (19 Sept); I am still lamenting that missed opportunity to annually push verbiage such as avast, belay and bilge back into popular usage.

So in honour of our mates at the UN (who have their own little celebration on 24 October with the 72nd observance of United Nations day) I followed and will follow my vicarious Octoberisms, courtesy of those intrepid internationalists and sundry other lovers of the tenth month.

I formally videocalled my old man on 1 October to pay homage to the international day of older persons. Serendipity reigned, as his new hearing aids meant he also could revel in international music day, held on that same orbit of the sun.

The next day, world no alcohol day, made pretext towards a valiant global struggle for sobriety. It was defied by national vodka day, observed in solidarity with some US mates on the 4th.

Unlike some German rellies lamenting the second consecutive cancellation of Oktoberfest, Australians under Covid conditions are holding firm in their beer consumption and hitting new heights with wine and spirits. Portentous or Playful? Coping method or calamitous mayhem? It depends who’s pouring and why they’re drinking.


'Engendering some community spirit in the face of an increasingly polarised, deliberately discriminating community of vaccinated and unvaccinated could be just what the doctor ordered.'


On the 5th, I ceremonially raised a glass to salute my spouse on world teachers day, as she heroically slogged along, doing her utmost to share kindness, acumen, wisdom and concern for her students through screens.

I would have readily done the same to celebrate my favourite leggy wonders, the oceans’ funkiest residents as recognised on world octopus day, which is beautifully assigned to the eighth of October; except for my pedantic distaste for Julius Caesar’s mucking around with calendars (when the Conqueror of Gaul and his heir set out to tweak the Roman calendar, via Egyptian and Greek variants, they pushed October from eighth to tenth month).

Many is the day that whooshed and whooshes by me in this mawkish month of musing and meditation. On 10 October I solemnly observed world mental health day and world homeless day (correlation does sometimes equate with causation); the 11th and the 18th bookended the international day of the girl child and world menopause day, and I have chosen to mark international artists day and world pasta day (both looming on 25 October) with a portrait of my miniature schnauzer, to be hewn arduously from dry spaghetti and dried carbonara.

What I am really hanging out for, especially in these days when bestriding our streets while masked is compulsory, is a treat that will bring my locked down October to rest. I long for Halloween.

A little patched, if not botched history… if I have this to rights, 31 October is known as our Halloween (Hallowe’en, or All Hallows evening) because a 7th Century CE pontifex, Pope Boniface IV, dragged All Saints Day from 13 May to 1 November. Or was it Pope Gregory III in the 8th Century CE?

Does anyone know or care in this instance?

Anyhow, centuries later, Halloween has become Western civilisation’s (or more aptly the cultural step-children of the United States’) excuse for daggy costumes, ghost stories and water-logged Granny Smiths.

It is occasionally suggested that the Pope (whoever he might have been) was engaging in a bit of cultural sleight of hand, trying to Christianise what had been a pagan holiday (holy day), the Celtic festival of Samhain. I don’t know if Samhain marketers and Druids did as well out of the bonfires and costumes (donned to scare away the bogeyman) as their contemporaries have with Halloween. But I’d suggest there are some public benefits that we as communities can gain if we dipped the lid, or witch’s hat, to the kids’ celebration.

Firstly, our children could use some fun. This may apply more aptly to kids in Melbourne and Sydney, rather than their cousins elsewhere, but I have some firsthand observations of how much they have lost by the necessary steps we have taken to protect them.

Could our streets’ doyens safely leave packaged treats at our doors, for our young neighbours, without the grim reaper of Covid scaring them off? Perhaps socially distanced fun could engender some much-needed community spirit these days.

Halloween’s more recent history of trick or treating was derived from ‘…Irish and Scottish communities [who] revived the Old World custom of “guising,” in which a person would dress in costume and tell a joke, recite a poem, or perform some other trick in exchange for a piece of fruit or other treat.’

Fancy talking and laughing with people. That doesn’t necessarily happen for all Australians these days. Engendering some community spirit in the face of an increasingly polarised, deliberately discriminating community of vaccinated and unvaccinated could be just what the doctor ordered.

Speaking of medical benefits, the commercial and cultural dagginess of Halloween could be (spuriously, speculatively or salaciously) enhanced by some positives, such as burning some additional calories, boosting of brain and immune health, strengthening social bonds and sharing precariously in some retail therapy.

As you wade through your October, with or without octopi, music, alcohol, witches’ clobber or wooden legs (Arrrrgh), I invoke the hope that Covid will lack the ghost of a chance to dig its claws deeper into our families, our souls and our psyches.   



Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: Lighted Halloween Pumpkin Jack o Lantern Wearing Covid PPE Mask. (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, October, pandemic, lockdown, Covid-19, observation



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Existing comments

You Rock-tober, Barry! Great fun!

Ann Rennie | 12 October 2021  

No lockdown lunacy for you, Barry, with your passion for observance. I am intrigued by world octopus day celebrated on the eighth of October and am willing to sign a petition requesting October rightfully and augustly be re-moved as the eighth month. Even as I am frightened by all those arms, I do have something in common with the marine mollusc as I also may eject a cloud of ink (or rather lead pencil) when alarmed. And my grandkids are all looking forward to dressing up for Halloween.

Pam | 12 October 2021  

Barry, can you explain who decided and how the Western calendar now appears to start the week on Monday? The week now ends with ' a weekend' and begins on a Monday.

Rod | 22 October 2021  

Rod, I make no claim for wisdom here - it is fair to say perhaps that cultural and religious priorities (and the Industrial Revolution) have all played parts in how different cultures and faiths came to start and finish their weeks.

If you compare the number of public holidays with older Western calendars brimming with saints days and feasts, I'd suggest days not dedicated to work for non-retirees and adults would be lighter on the ground these days compared to other ears. But most of us do less physically demanding work than our forebears.

Whether you start your week (mentally and financially) on Sunday and Monday may be more an historical accident, business mandate and cultural conditioning than a conscious choice.

I hope you enjoy your 'weekend'!


Barry Gittins | 22 October 2021  

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