Classic Articles from the Vault #14

A view on Halloween

By David Ahern

Halloween has long been the creepy domain of goblins, witches, ghosts, zombies, skeletons and other ghastly creatures. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, Halloween costumes and ‘trick-or-treating’ belonged in a Hollywood movie. It wasn’t an Antipodean thing to celebrate Halloween. October 31 would come and go much like any other day.

How times have changed! Halloween has been seeping into our collective psyche in recent years, to the point it has now reached plague-like proportions in our towns and cities. It’s enough to make my blood crawl: an American festival with a ghoulish flavour invading our suburbs? Thousands of youngsters dressing as their favourite monsters and taking delight in scaring one another — and quiet, ordinary folk like me. And it’s not just the children who have embraced Halloween: many adults are equally enchanted, organising fancy dress parties, even at supposedly haunted venues. Egad!

Sure, the Americans didn’t invent Halloween. It began as a western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, a three-day observance of Allhallowtide and was influenced by early Celtic customs and beliefs. The time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints or hallows, martyrs, and the faithful departed.

So far so good but Halloween has morphed into something far bigger. There was a time I thought we’d be shielded from Halloween but alas, like many things American, we tend to follow suit. It’s now best practice to stay away from the family home between 5 and 8pm on October 31, unless you find pleasure in the incessant ringing of the front doorbell, the sight of spooky faces and shrieks of “trick-or-treat”.

While it’s customary to display a pumpkin head with eyes, nose and mouth cut out so little ones know which houses are Halloween friendly, the kids don’t always stick to the unwritten rules. The inquisitive – and most children are – and those with too much sugar running through their veins will often knock on other doors as well. Like a political rally, the decibels begin to rise as excitable youngsters, keen to add to their growing booty of chocolate and lollies, scramble from one house to the next. It’s almost a competition to see who can accumulate the most yummies in the shortest amount of time.

Yes, it’s only one day a year and it’s always good to see happy, smiling children but I harp back to the point of one culture’s increasing dominance over another, benevolent or otherwise. To be fair it’s probably been like this for a long time. I grew up loving cowboy and Indian movies and TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart and, dare I say it, Bewitched. American television and American culture were all the rage in the 60s.

Perhaps the growing popularity of Halloween is no different to my boyhood when my brothers and I would play in the backyard and imitate the ‘invincible’ characters from our favourite TV shows. Back then childhood fantasies were more about Superman and Batman than ghosts and witches.

As the end of October draws near, maybe I will rethink my attitude towards Halloween. Maybe I will stay at home and cut out a pumpkin head and place it on the front fence. And if there’s a knock on the door, maybe I will greet the visiting ‘ghouls and monsters’ with a broad, welcoming smile and with sweets in hand. Maybe!

You can listen to the first three episodes our new family counseling podcast series of Figuring out Families!

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