Travel Magazine

What Happened to Halloween?

By Russellvjward @russellvjward
Can someone please tell me what happened to Halloween?You see I don't think I saw one bedsheet-wearing ghost glide down my street, no mischievous trick or treater on the hunt for a bag of sweets or two, not even a carefully carved pumpkin or tacky witch's wand in sight. Did Halloween bewitch itself into non-existence or did it eerily pass me by in the dead of night?
I'm a big fan of Halloween. I love the idea of it. Ghosts and ghouls, witches and warlocks, banshees and beelzebubs. It's a night when the imagination is free to run wild, when adults and children alike dress up and run ragged around the streets (or, in my case, on the dance floor at the Halloween party). Maybe it's the part of me that refuses to grow up but, with the cold and dark nights setting in, Halloween can be a devilishly eery time of year and one in which our deep and dark pagan sides reveal themselves (I think).

What Happened to Halloween?

Pumpkin patches. Image: Arvind Balaraman /

When we lived in Canada, Halloween was a major event. Children spent days on end waiting in eager anticipation of 'fright night' and folks would go all-out in decorating their ginormous homes, covering them in every bit of creepy paraphernalia under the sun (or full moon). Pumpkin patches were a favorite of mine where you'd pick your pumpkin of choice ready for the messy carving session to come. Halloween was activity-laden during the day culminating in the costume wearing and trick-or-treating later that night.
I spent one such Halloween walking the Canadian streets arm-in-arm with my girlfriend (an intelligent woman, she is now my wife) as we considered each house in our neighbourhood and acknowledged the hours of effort and detail that had gone into the decorations. At one such house, a small rancher-style shack, I stopped and admired the owner's handiwork.
"Just look at the effort this guy has gone to. It must have taken hours to do all this."
The front of the bungalow had been made to look run-down, old car parts and bits of white goods dumped in the yard, broken lights dangling from the porch roof, and dirty windows criss-crossed with pieces of broken timber. There were garish splashes of paint daubed up and down the front walls and across the garage door.  

What Happened to Halloween?

Halloween. Image: diamanti /

"This house is truly creepy," I said, as I started taking photos of the house for my growing Canadian Halloween collection. "What have they painted over there on the garage?"
From her spot at the end of the driveway, my other half peered closer at the garage door.
"I think it says '**** off, we won't be evicted' and 'stay off our property or we'll shoot", she replied, grabbing me by the arm and hurrying me away.
No Halloween prop after all.
Mistaken observations aside, Halloween in Canada was like it always appeared in the movies - cute kids dressed up to look like scary little monsters, invites-a-plenty to fancy dress parties, and a time of year that felt wholesome and generally good fun.
Which makes it all the more confusing as to what happened to Halloween in Australia this week. Where did the good times and festive frolics go?
In pursuit of the truth, a conversation in my office yesterday went something like this:
Me: "Do Australians not celebrate Halloween then?"
Colleague: "No, it's a Yank tradition. We don't like Halloween".
Me: "I think it's actually an English tradition. All Hallow's Eve or something. Burning witches at the stake. That sort of thing".
Colleague:  "Yeah, well we've taken the American version where kids get fat from eating too many sweets and I get my house egged if I don't give them anything".
Me: "Are you sure you don't just need to lighten up and get into the spirit of it? Halloween is a lot of fun. It's all about the kids dressing up and scaring each other".
Colleague: "I hate Halloween and I hate greedy kids. It's not Australian and I don't want my house getting egged".
Me: "I'd egg your house".
Colleague: "What?"
Me: "Nothing".
And that was the end of that.

What Happened to Halloween?

Boo.  Image: digitalart /

So did my co-worker accurately capture the entire mood of a nation? Have the Halloween fun police taken over the asylum?
Maybe Halloween is something Australians just aren't sure how to come to terms with. Whilst the Americans and Brits are out carving pumpkins, dressing up, and lighting bonfires as winter beckons, Aussies seem happier to whinge and whine. Sure it doesn't seem right to be starting fires at a time when bushfire season is upon us and Halloween is a tradition with its roots overseas, but I get the feeling that beating up on Halloween is just a small part of a bigger favorite Australian pastime.
Sooner or later the folks here must decide whether they're in or out. Do they celebrate Halloween or don't they? Do they open the door to the trick or treaters... or pretend that no-one's home? 
'Witch'-ever way they do decide to go, I know I'll be waiting with my stash of eggs ready to pelt the first non-believing bah humbug I find.
So how did you spend Halloween night? And do you know what happened to it in the land down under?

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