Halloween, mate

I’ve been hanging out for Australia to celebrate Halloween since I was small: when I was seven or eight I forlornly attempted to trick-or-treat my street in western Sydney. On reflection, it’s probably good that I gave up well before I got to the Milat residence. Yeah, those Milats

So I have a strong bias towards Halloween. I can sympathise with Australians who grumble about it being “Americanisation”, but only a little: if it were an entirely American invention, we should still embrace it. Just as we have adopted the internet: because it’s awesome.

Except that it wasn’t an American invention. Halloween has been celebrated in Scotland and Ireland for centuries and was brought to the USA and Canada by settlers. What I’m wondering is why it wasn’t also brought to Australia.

Even more curious is the fact that the Scottish and Irish celebration of Halloween is not widely known in the south of England: see the comments to this article on Guy Fawkes Night.

I have a pet theory about this, which like most pets is very poorly researched. Halloween and Guy Fawkes are only six days apart. In those countries with strong native Catholic traditions, Halloween would be a natural rival to the originally anti-Catholic Guy Fawkes Night, and was celebrated in parallel – or, possibly, reborn as part of the Celtic Revival.

In the early years of the Australian colonies, by contrast, the cultural traditions of Catholic settlers were suppressed: as was, for example, the Irish language. So Guy Fawkes Night took over, and Halloween came to be seen as alien and American. A similar process may have happened in England: perhaps Guy Fawkes absorbed or syncretised the 17th-century English celebration of Halloween.

(I think Guy Fawkes eventually morphed into the Queen’s birthday Cracker Night which was sadly extinguished in the 1980s. In New Zealand, I understand, it’s still celebrated on the 5th of November.)

Either that, or it was all due to a lack of turnips, which are what the original Irish and Scottish Jack o’ Lanterns are made from.


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