Halloween is just around the corner! While it’s incredibly popular in the US, you may have noticed that there isn’t as much fanfare for the festival here in Australia.
Let’s look at the history of Halloween and why many Australians simply don’t care about spooky October.
Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, originates from Celtic culture in the British Isles, with All Hallows’ Eve typically being linked to the festival of Samhain, or Summer’s End. This festival marked the end of summer and the harvest season, and the beginning of the darker half of the year. The spooky side of Halloween comes from the idea that this period is considered a ‘liminal time’. This means that the boundary between the physical world and the spiritual world is weaker, allowing spirits and fairies (called the Aos Si) to cross into the physical. In times past, food and drink would be left outside for these fairies to ensure good luck and survival through winter.
The fairies visiting from the spiritual realm also led to the modern Halloween tradition of dressing up, with those partaking in the festivities dressing up as fairies, the dead, or other ghouls and going house to house, receiving offerings of food in place of the Aos Si.
While the tradition started off in Celtic Britain, it soon found its way to America from the high levels of Irish and British immigration across the Atlantic. In the 20th century, America truly embraced Halloween and Americanised it into what it is today, with the event now being celebrated in the United States far more than it is across the British Isles.
So, why doesn’t Australia celebrate Halloween?
Despite Halloween’s rich history and the shared culture between Australia, Britain and the US, Australia doesn’t really celebrate the festival. There is no straightforward answer as to why, but the three most common beliefs pertain to the Victorian pushback against Halloween, the Australian seasons, and Australian disdain for American cultural imperialism.
An article in the Washington Post blames the British social conservatism of the Victorian era as a reason for the lack of enthusiasm for Halloween in Australia. During the 19th century, the British Empire was at its peak and its rule was more absolute. The Post argues that it is this legacy of imperialism that remained in Australia long after the Empire broke down, leaving a lack of interest in Halloween to this day.
The second argument as to why Halloween isn’t popular in Australia is the Australian climate. Halloween essentially marks the end of summer and the harvest, with the spooky events associated with Halloween being linked to less daylight. However, Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, so when it is summer in the Northern hemisphere, it is winter here. The lack of a religious reason to observe the festival (as with Easter and Christmas) simply meant there was no reason to celebrate Halloween in Australia.
The third argument for Halloween’s lack of popularity Down Under is Australian contempt for American culture. While American movies and TV shows are popular in Australia, Dr Paul Harrison from Deakin Business School believes the US commercialisation of Halloween has put Australians off the festival. This loathing towards American commercialism is reflected in this article from the ABC:
“Cheap plastic costumes that will be worn once, and more sugar and glucose than a child would ever need consumed in one night!”
“It’s just an Americanism foisted on us by large corporations in a bid to scam more money out of us!”
Similarly, this article from SBS shows more cynicism towards the festival, highlighting the offensive costumes that are often worn at parties as another issue Australians have with American Halloween.
How can I celebrate Halloween in Australia?
While Halloween isn’t as widespread as it is in the US, this doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it at all during your time here. You can check to see if your city has any events planned; some cities and local businesses (such as cinemas) may be hosting Halloween events this weekend.
If you don’t want to attend a public event, you can always host your own! Naturally, hosting an event under current gathering rules may be difficult, but you could have a virtual Halloween party or host a Halloween trivia night over Zoom.
If parties aren’t your thing, watch some creepy movies and shows on an Australian streaming service. Netflix recently released Midnight Mass and Stan has added selections from the Halloween and Scream franchises. Catch up on these and then you can head to the cinema to watch the new Halloween Kills and Scream (2022).