It’s finally October, which means Halloween is coming upon us, you’re probably seeing a lot of memes and costume ideas circulating the internet again. Along with the internet’s usual antics, The Great Halloween debate is brought up time and time again. Where did the holiday come from? Has the holiday become another driver of mass consumption? Is it really safe to send kids running the streets on Halloween? Is the holiday “too American” for us be celebrating in Australia? There are a lot of questions surrounding Halloween, and it means different things to different people. So, let’s take a deeper look at the holiday, and you can decide where you stand on The Great Halloween Debate.
Halloween was born of an ancient Celtic tradition practiced throughout Europe thousands of years ago called Samhain. This ritual was used to mark the end of summer, and the start of the “dark” season of winter. Typically, on October 31st the Celtic people would slaughter animals, light sacrificial fires (sometimes filled with cages of black cats), and have a large feast. This tradition was held annually to ward away the evils associated with winter, such as witches, ghosts and hobgoblins. Even Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating can be linked back to Samhain, because people wore the skins of animals to disguise themselves from the spirits, and beggars would travel to the homes of the wealthy asking for handouts from the feast.
But how did this tradition find its way across the sea, evolving and transforming to what it has become? After Samhain, Christians began to ward away spirits on the last day of October in what was known as “All Hallows”. Again, people would wear costumes and disguises to keep evil away. When the Irish migrated to America during the 1800’s, these traditions came with them, continuing to morph within the context of a new culture. Consumer culture, particularly in confectionaries and costume items, has been linked to Halloween for decades. However, one huge growth area of consumerism, which is a big money-maker when it comes to the holiday, is entertainment and branding.
Cult favourite films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, and Halloweentown, which are widely considered “Halloween films”, show the prevalence of Halloween in pop-culture. The “It” movie is an adaption of Stephen King’s horror novel, which came out in cinemas just over a month ago and has been a massive success, showing that all things spooky will gain traction- particularly during this time of year. Halloween-themed events are a key example of the consumerism of Halloween and how businesses can cash in on it. A local example is Fright Nights over at Movie World, in comparison to Disney World’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights which are held just around the corner from where I’m living at the moment in Orlando, Florida. Love it or hate it, Halloween events similar to those in America are coming to Australia, and they’re super popular too!
But it’s not just movies: many fashion brands embrace the witchy vibes of Halloween with a unique seasonal collection. In Australia, Peter Alexander and Dangerfield have both released a range showcasing some Halloween-inspired apparel. Although Halloween isn’t considered particularly “Australian”, when brands embrace it they are significant contributors in Australia’s developing Halloween culture. The love for this holiday extends into gaming culture as well, with video games such as Overwatch have taken notice of the Halloween hype, making a Halloween in-game event. The latest Halloween-themed pop culture sensation is the second season of Stranger Things, which happened to be one of the most popular Halloween costumes of 2016. The season aired on October 27th, which is very convenient for a Halloween binge-watching marathon, and the trailer contains some awesome and spooky themes as well as Halloween references. In Australia we love our video games, TV, and movies just as much as our mates over in America. When we play Overwatch and watch Stranger Things, or indulge in anything else with a Halloween theme, Halloween becomes a stronger part of our socioculture.
Halloween is celebrated in different ways depending on where you live and your demographic. In Australia, the classic trick-or-treating you see in movies doesn’t happen much, unfortunately. We definitely know it’s a thing that happens, but this part of Halloween was really born in America after the Irish migrated. In Australia, everything we know is learned from pop-culture like the sources mentioned above. With a mum that grew up in America, my house was always decorated for Halloween. I was even fortunate to live in one of the neighbourhoods that arranged trick or treating (granted, it had to be organised through notices in the mail boxes). Even then, some houses had no idea what was happening and handed us some fruit in hopes that would get us to leave.
One of the biggest issues with Halloween is a distrust of those in the neighbourhood, that perhaps someone will poison the treats, or that kids simply should not wander the streets at night and unsupervised. With increasing safety concerns in neighbourhoods, it seems kids don’t play on the streets in Aussie suburbs like they used to. Because of this, I don’t feel like the “trick-or-treat” part of Halloween will ever be a big part of Australian society. It seems that it has developed into something that teens and adults celebrate more than children. For me, and most other millennials, Halloween (and the entire month of October to be honest) is an excuse to wear outfits that are a little bit more gothic, and come up with some awesome Halloween party ideas. In Australian socio-culture, the closest I’ll get to an “American Halloween” are parties where people dress up in obscure outfits, kind of like from in Mean Girls- but I’m the one in the actual witch costume, because I’m a die-hard Halloween fan.
Whether you’re into Halloween for the parties, the candy, the costumes; or you just really love a good fright, the holiday started in a way which is incredibly different manner to what it is now, and is celebrated differently all around the world. Pop-culture trends and social norms follow a constant cycle, and there is no telling which way things will go next. So soak it up and enjoy Halloween, even if you never got to go trick-or-treating as a kid!