Something that some Australians have a hard time accepting is America’s influence on our culture. Most of our movies, TV shows, and music come from the US, so it’s inevitable that some of their culture will rub off on us.
However, Halloween is not an example this influence. Halloween isn’t an example of American culture taking over Australia for many reasons, but firstly because it isn’t even American in origin.
Halloween started life as Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival held at the end of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer – so, right about now. This pagan festival was adopted and adapted by the early Church in an effort to “smooth the conversion process”, and it became All Hallows’ Eve. All of that happened in the 700s, in Europe, AKA several centuries before America became ‘America’.
So how did Halloween make its way to America? Earlier colonists, such as the Puritans, didn’t like Halloween for obvious reasons (they hated almost everything), so it didn’t become a widely celebrated holiday until Scottish and Irish migration ramped up in the 1800s (and it’s still celebrated all over the UK and Ireland). Even then, it took more than a century for Halloween to make its way outside those migrant communities, and now, here we are, with Americans having perfected the art of Halloween.
This insistence that Australia remain unblemished by ‘American culture’ has troubling undertones, frankly. ‘Australian culture’ as it exists now is simply an amalgamation of hundreds of different kinds of cultures. The idea of there being one dominant ‘Australian culture’ is often used to silence and ostracise those who don’t meet its standards, like migrants or Indigenous people, or those who criticise aspects of it, like Australia Day.
So, it isn’t American culture taking over Australia, because it isn’t American. But I’m not even sure it’s taking over in the first place.
Over a decade ago, I tried trick-or-treating with my friends for the first time. Some people gave us candy. One person gave us $5 notes. One person gave us granola bars, and one person yelled at us about how Halloween was an American holiday so we shouldn’t be celebrating it. But most people just didn’t have anything to give us.
I don’t think much has changed. I live in the suburbs, and despite having candy available each year just in case, I never get trick-or-treaters at my door come October 31st. Maybe it’s because most of the neighbours on my street don’t really talk to each other. But I think the reality is that trick-or-treating simply hasn’t taken off here the way some people fear.
The most that I see it celebrated is by adults who attend Halloween parties and use it as an excuse to dress up. And what’s wrong with that, exactly? Everyone loves a topical or punny costume.
Writing in The Age, Nicola Philp wrote about her hatred of Halloween, and her suspicions that this aspect of ‘American culture’ has infiltrated Australia because retailers saw an opportunity to make money. That may be so, but protesting specifically and solely against Halloween is hardly going to challenge capitalism in any meaningful way.
At the end of the day, Halloween is an excuse to dress up, and if you’re a kid, ask strangers for candy. Neither of those things are hurting anyone, so why can’t those who complain just chill out and adopt a ‘let people live’ approach?
I don’t have any Halloween plans myself, so if anyone needs me, I’ll be celebrating All Hallows’ Eve by watching Halloween-themed episodes of my favourite TV shows.