With October 31st approaching, my local supermarket entrance is festooned with orange and black tinsel. A large crate of pumpkins dominates the fruit and vegetable section. This display will no doubt be driving Halloween haters into a seething state of resentment.
Over the past few years, our family have not only embraced Halloween, but spread our enthusiasm across the whole neighbourhood. My kids aged 9, 6 and 3 years, hand-deliver orange envelopes containing flyers outlining trick-or-treating times (between 6-8pm) along with an orange and black balloon to all the letterboxes along our street. On the early evening of Halloween, those who choose to participate will fasten the balloon at their front fence signalling to all that they welcome trick-or-treaters.
Halloween has taken off on our street spectacularly. The whole neighbourhood - from hipster university share house renters, young families of Lebanese, Chinese, Anglo descent, to Greek yiayias - come out to witness the parade of children and their families kitted out in all sorts of silly and gory costumes. The atmosphere is charged with vibrancy and a fierce spirit of generosity. It truly is something special and ingenious and unites all the kids in the neighbourhood in a feeling of safety and belonging.
While the numbers celebrating Halloween steadily grow in Australia, there continues to be mixed feelings about this occasion.
While the numbers celebrating Halloween steadily grow in Australia, there continues to be mixed feelings about this occasion. Mostly, that it is a commercialised American tradition and has no place in this country. Putting the debate aside, at its core, the modern-day Halloween celebration is a about celebrating children and families.
Across the globe, many cultures embrace this notion wholeheartedly. The Japanese have Children’s Day, Indians have Diwali, and many Asian countries have Lunar New Year. These are celebrations where homes are decorated and doors opened and celebrations spill out onto the footpaths connecting the whole neighbourhood.
My children, who are of mixed race - part Vietnamese, part Greek - are fortunate to participate in such community celebrations across Melbourne. Each year they attend the Vietnamese Moon Festival in Fawkner and Braybrook. Vietnamese children celebrate this occasion by circling the neighbourhood carrying decorative lanterns accompanied by dancing dragons and beating drums, while neighbours either join in or watch on from their front porches.
In Brunswick, we join the throng of families taking to the residential footpaths surrounding our local church, clutching candles to mark the Orthodox Easter. There is something ethereal and poignant about the sea of glowing orbs illuminating the dark night. And there is nothing more enriching for the community, than watching a celebratory procession of children and families right outside your doorstep.
People often tell me they dislike Halloween, because of the intrusion they feel of strangers knocking at their door. This is unsurprising, given that in our hyper-individualistic times with people living increasingly transient lives, residents aren’t able to build the close community bonds they once did. Gone are the days when neighbours spontaneously knocked on one another’s door to ask for a cup of sugar.
Gone are the days when neighbours spontaneously knocked on one another’s door to ask for a cup of sugar.
In fact, an American Twitter user sparked online conversation about millennials having a genuine fear of pressing the doorbell. Others followed with comments about not feeling comfortable opening the door to strangers.
Have we killed spontaneity? Are we so afraid of each other that we can no longer confront an unexpected visitor on our doorstep? Reliance on texting and less face-to-face interactions means we have also killed our ability for small talk, leaving us feeling too insecure and vexed to communicate with anyone unplanned.
More worryingly, is our anxiety of strangers spilling over to our children? Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to acknowledge strangers? It simply takes a smile or a ‘good morning’ to a stranger for our kids to learn and enjoy the benefits of social interactions. Otherwise, how else will they develop good judgement and knowingly discern good strangers over not-so-good ones?
Creating rituals such as trick-or-treating may help neighbourhoods feel more connected and consequently safer. Isn’t embracing Halloween helpful – however small a way - as an antidote to the silent killer that is loneliness, isolation and anxiety in our modern society? It’s time for Australians to let go of Halloween grudges and embrace the joy, ritual, spontaneity, generosity and community-bonding.
You can check out SBS On Demand's spooky lineup of Halloween viewing here.