Australians of a certain generation seem to really hate Halloween. They despise it. Through gritted teeth they say it’s a ridiculous American tradition. They say it has nothing to do with our culture or heritage. It’s a money-making scam. It’s too much sugar. It isn’t safe.
Americans have a bunch of traditions and ways of living that we seem pretty keen on adopting. Fast food. Soul food. Hip-hop. Hipsters. Theme parks. Bottomless soft drinks. Netflix!
Will those who rail against Halloween as an American tradition also give up their Dominoes Pizza and Netflix nights? How about Black Friday shopping specials? I don’t think so.
I don’t understand the hate. And besides, I actually think Halloween is more good for our children than bad, regardless of its origins (which are not American, by the way), and regardless of how much junk food they inhale on the night.
I’m not going to argue that American society is what we need more of here. While there are some delightfully wonderful things about almost all societies around the world (including the USA), the Americans certainly have their fair share of challenges and cultural cringe.
But in relation to Halloween? I’m all for it. Here are 5 reasons we should enjoy Halloween and stop being such a pumpkin about it:
It’s a ritual or tradition.
As human beings we adore rituals. As other institutions break down (such as church communities, sporting clubs, and strong neighbourhood ties), we look for ways to replace that. Halloween is one way. From a grassroots perspective it’s no different than your local Carols by Candlelight and it’s grown the same way. It has grown because there is a need for it. And because people are seeking out rituals to bring their community together.
Traditions have the potential to bind us to one another through shared experiences and shared meaning attached to those experiences. We use traditions to transmit our values to our children or to remind us of the warmth that exists in our relationships. They also help us feel happier as we look back and reflect on the tradition.
In other words, we make memories. We build relationships. We emphasise values. Halloween helps us do that. How? Read on.
When we embrace Halloween, we embrace community.
Halloween is a great time to get into the community and get to know your neighbours. People are welcoming (for the most part) and opening their doors to one another. There are exclamations of, ‘I haven’t seen you in ages’, and ‘Tell your mum I said “hello”’.
Sports clubs, schools, and churches put on car trunk Halloween activities. People talk to each other. We connect. This is a good thing. As our “village” shrinks and we become more solitary, something like Halloween rebuilds the village just a little.
Halloween is an exploration of joy.
‘Too much sugar’ is an oft-cited argument against Halloween. And I get it. (I kind of even agree with it.) But we need to stop being so precious about our kids having too much sugar (for one night). When was the last time they got to experience the unbridled delight that comes from running around the neighbourhood with a bag of lollies? One night won’t hurt. Stop complaining and being such a kill-joy.
Halloween is joyful. Kids knock on a door, shout ‘trick-or-treat’ and get to bask in the exclamations of delight and (fake) fear from the homeowner about their costumes. They get to meet up with friends in the street, and walk around the neighbourhood holding hands with mum or dad as dusk is settling in. Yes, they get a little treat, but better, they get a lot of joy.
Halloween lets kids experience safe risk taking.
Halloween is scary – but only a little bit. Some of the costumes our kids encounter might be a little over the top – fake blood dripping from cosmetically created open wounds, terrifying gaping masks or mummies moaning as they trail their tissue paper wrappings. (Aussies overdo the ghouls and witches. In the US, it’s just a dress-up night in many communities.)
And walking up to a door, knocking and shouting ‘trick-or-treat’ can make some children a little nervous. But as parents we’re there supporting them – waiting out on the footpath (sidewalk?) while they take little independent steps.
Risk taking is an essential part of play. Studies tell us that children who take risks learn about safety better than kids who don’t. They learn to perceive hazards and dangers better, and they learn to regulate their emotions, particularly anxiety, and deal with the little bit of stress that comes with doing things we might think are scary or dangerous.
So, yes, Halloween might be a little scary, but it’s the kind of scary that builds up our children and helps them grow. And we all know that being (a little bit!) scared, is really kind of fun!
Halloween might be a dumb, American tradition …
but it’s also a tradition of community and family, a time of joy and play and pretend and an opportunity for our children to grow.
So, let’s get over ourselves. On October 31, give the children a bag and head outside. Let’s talk to (or meet) our neighbours. Let’s show delight and fear when costumed children pass by. Let’s hold each other’s hands while we walk around our neighbourhood. And let’s experience the joy that can come from a fair dinkum Aussie Halloween.
Find more about family traditions and other ways of making families happier in my bestselling book 21 Days to a Happier Family