|© Ghost & Girl|
"For a while, we pull these fearful and painful realities into a relatively contained and public context. We share them with our children. We create a special and safe moment during which danger and death, skeletons and strangers can safely be part of our existence...Halloween reverses the usual order of many things in many ways". ~ Ken C. Erikson, Anthropologist
Here's the deal: I have never celebrated or participated in Halloween. Ever. I can muse about ghosts, and theorise about life after death, but Halloween presents me with a difficulty: How does one write about something one has no experience of?
You see, in southern Australia (where I have lived all my life), October is spring. Here the days are getting longer and warmer. It hasn't rained solidly in at least two months. The ground is dry, the grass is beginning to crunch underfoot, and the plants are finishing their spring bloom in preparation for summer shut-down.
October 31 in Australia bears no relevance to the ancient Celtic calendar that brought about Samhain, which lead to All Hallow's Eve and, in time, Halloween. In Australia, the first day of November marks the beginning of summer: Beltane. If Australians wanted to be serious about Halloween and keep in line with its history and traditions, then the reality is that it would need to be celebrated not in October, as it is in the Northern Hemisphere, but on the Southern Hemisphere's Samhain, which falls on April 30.
There is limited information as to why Australia, despite its shared cultural and religious history with Europe and the Americas, never adopted the tradition of Halloween. There are suggestions, however, that the seasonal differences may have played a major part, or perhaps the religious influences at the time of settlement had something to do with it as well. It might even be that the arduous life of a settler (whether a free one or not) simply couldn't accommodate the traditions of the Old Country.
However, whatever the reasons for its initial absence from the Australian calendar - an absence that existed for more than two hundred years, I might add - in recent times, Halloween has been creeping its way into our lives.
Or, at least, into our supermarkets and department stores.
The arrival of Halloween to Australian shores is the result of clever marketing techniques from the big-brand, American-owned companies that influence all our purchasing habits. But despite this, the introduction of Halloween might be just what Australia needs.
In the past decade or so, Halloween has become a thing in Australia. People throw costume parties and children go trick-or-treating in their neighbourhoods. I was surprised to learn during my own investigations (read: intense questioning of local residents), that even in a small town situated on the edge of the desert, Halloween has been the thing to do for the past fifteen years. And not only that, but with each passing year it gets bigger and better, with more people becoming involved.
But don't think for a minute that this is your typical, Northern Hemisphere Halloween event. There's no history behind the existence of Halloween in Australia. It's only cultural influence is American pop-culture.
So, why then do we do it, if we have no seasonal, cultural or historical ties to the tradition?
I asked this question of a parent whose two teenage daughters have dressed-up and gone trick-or-treating for the past ten years. Her response was this:
"You'd think it'd be about the candy, but it's not. It's about the make-believe, about being a kid. It's the experience of it that has them wanting to do it again, year in and year out, no matter how old they get".
When I first decided that I would write this post, I wanted to write about Halloween as a ritual of inversion. A ritual of inversion (or reversal, as it is sometimes referred) is an event that permits people to participate in something that goes against the accepted norms of one's society.
Halloween is the time of year when it is okay, in fact acceptable for people to dabble in danger and death. It's the time when ghost stories are encouraged rather than scoffed at; when monsters and strange events become the topic of conversation; when one can dress up as a mythical creature without ridicule; and when all the things that make up the paranormal become the normal. All those things we'd rather not think about, let alone discuss or participate in at any other time of the year, become accepted practice during Halloween.
This is what makes Halloween a ritual of inversion, and perhaps it is the reason why Australians seem willing to adopt it and make it a part of their annual calendar. There was nothing like it before. When I was growing up, one didn't talk about death, or ghosts, or monsters. It was either taboo, or didn't exist. Now children make up songs about ghosts on their way to school in the morning, and choose out costumes for trick-or-treating, and attempt to scare each other silly with the scariest story they can come up with.
And since it's Halloween, that's perfectly okay.
From an Australian perspective, Halloween presents one with the perfect excuse to become involved in the paranormal. Australia needs Halloween, simply because it is a ritual of inversion. It's cultural influences, and even its seasonal irrelevance seem unimportant in light of the fact that Halloween acts as a social pressure-release valve.
That is, Halloween makes it okay to talk about and participate in those things that might otherwise raise eyebrows; to celebrate not only the make-believe, but shared experience with death - and what comes after it.