Most Australian children watching the Simpsons in the 90s were made vaguely aware of something called Halloween when a particularly gruesome episode of Treehouse of Horror would air. Since the show is American, the idea of an entire neighbourhood decorating their homes and accompanying little ghouls and ghosts on a candy-spree seemed like a wonderful celebration limited completely to the US.
Fast forward to 20 years later and the internet has made the world so much smaller, and everything in it immediately accessible to us, so like it or not even Halloween has become a thing in Australia.
So what is Halloween and where did it come from?
Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, which marked the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the dark winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, October 31, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth1.
This is where the tradition of dressing up in costume comes from. People were too frightened to leave their homes in case they met a ghoul on the road, so to avoid being detected, people wore masks so the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
By the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honour all saints and called it All Saints Day. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween, and the traditions that came from celebrating Samhain was mixed in with Christian and pagan traditions and resulted in what we have today.
Just as Christmas has evolved with commercialism and clever marketing, over time, Halloween in the US has become less about ushering in Winter and more about lollies, costumes and carving jack-o-lanterns.
Why has it come to Australia?
If the US celebrates it, it was only a matter of time before we do. The only reason we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving is because the roots of the holiday are tied to the first pilgrims.
How Australian’s feel about adopting Halloween depends on who you talk to. Some are staunchly against the type of globalisation that waters down our unique traditions, but others see it as a bit of fun. And, that’s all it really is. While we may not have fully accepted the tradition yet, Australia is a multicultural country, which means we can pick the best of every culture and make it our own.