Halloween, Guy Fawkes and other imports


Image by Jill Wellinto9n, www.pixabay.com

As Halloween (and Guy Fawkes) is almost upon us, I decided to revisit a post from 2015, which, statistics suggest, most of you missed.

The prediction in 1940-something that Mother’s new bairn would be born in late October may have caused some angst. In Scotland, those of a superstitious nature would have been in a ‘swither’ (a state of nervous agitation). But “no worries” as we say in Australia, or ‘nae bother’ – I was born before Halloween.

One friend says that apart from it being her birthday, October 31 is a ‘non-event’. But her American friends are horrified, in a swither, even, because of the (pagan) tradition that deems the 31st to be the date departed spirits return to earth.

I have vague early childhood memories of Halloween in Scotland where bairns wear ghost costumes and go door knocking. You don’t get something for nothing in Scotland. You had to sing, dance or recite poetry to be rewarded with a sweetie.

Cultural invasion

Meanwhile, the traditions of Halloween, or to be more precise, the retail world’s version, have been imported to Australia, but is struggling to attract a new audience.

One in four Australians said they’d be celebrating Halloween in 2022, spending $430 million, according to the Australian Retailers Association and Roy Morgan.

McCrindle Research uncovered much the same in 2011. Of the 26% of Australians who planned to celebrate Halloween (in 2010), more than half were primary school aged children planning to ‘get spooky’.

As I write this, supermarkets in this town have stocked up on orange pumpkins – the ones most favoured to carve lanterns. The ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ and various witch and ghost costumes accompany ‘trick and treaters’ as they go door to door hoping for candy (lollies).

A former colleague, also an October 31 baby, says he was spared trick and treaters for years by virtue of living in an inner-city apartment, where door knockers rarely strayed. But since he moved to the country, it’s a different matter.

“I was quietly watching television on October 31 when I heard the doorbell ring and to my surprise there were children, escorted by a parent who cried out “trick or treat”. I did not chase these people away, but rummaged through my cupboard and found some lollies that I have for sweet tooth indulgences.”

He recalls stocking his country larder with fresh apples for next year’s trick and treaters.

“I think the spirit of giving is important, so if we are going to be dragged into another American cultural tradition, let us shape it and give children something that is good for them, rather than things that add to obesity and dental issues.”

Retail therapy for some

The hard facts are that the retail sector needs to cram its calendar with special days (e.g. Black Friday) that will boost turnover and present opportunities to sell unique stock. It starts with Australia Day and the related merchandise, which includes flags to fly from your car, real flags, Australian flag flip-flops, stubby holders and cigarette lighters, packs of cards, beach towels and sun hats. The upside for Australian retailers is that unsold stock can be stored away until next year.

Then comes Valentine’s Day – a big thing in Australia with almost 90% of people aged 18-24 said to mark the day of lovers in some significant way. The comparison website finder.com.au reckons we spend $1 billion on that one day alone, mainly on flowers and restaurant meals.

Except for Nine’s Ben Fordham who, upon finding that most eateries outside of Macca’s or a kebab shop wanted $144 for a set menu, decided to stay home and cook!

There are other imported anniversaries which cynics dub ‘Hallmark Holidays’, including Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. While I’m a self-confessed Grinch about Halloween, I feel justified in ignoring Black Friday sales. The great thing about being old is that high fashion, gadgets and gimmicks no longer seem to matter.

In America, Black Friday is known as the ‘day of deals’ and marks the start of the pre-Christmas shopping spree in the US. It has nevertheless been gaining traction here since 2017. This year Black Friday falls on November 25. If you miss it, there’s always our traditional Boxing Day sales.

Penny for the Guy

Some of you Brits will notice how I skipped over Guy Fawkes (November 5), a macabre celebration which now barely registers in Australia. It was quite a thing when we were children and the custom is still big in New Zealand, albeit tightly regulated.

The sale of fireworks was banned in Australian states in the 1980s, partly because of injuries and burns, but also because of the risk of bush fires in November.

The custom is still popular in the UK, where people start building bonfires in October while children make ‘guys’ which are traditionally burned on Guy Fawkes’ night. For the benefit of readers under 40, a summary: The Brits foiled a plot to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605. Spanish anarchist Guy Fawkes, who was found guarding a stock of explosives associated with the ‘Gunpowder Plot’, was arrested, tortured, and executed. Every year thereafter on November 5, effigies are ceremonially burned, with or without Guy Fawkes masks, while fireworks are let off.

You may have seen the stylised face mask designed by British artist David Lloyd as part of the 1988 book series V for Vendetta. The mask has become well-known through the movie of the same name. It has also been appropriated by the Hacktivist group Anonymous, worn at protests and rallies, including Occupy Wall Street.

The Pagans and the Christians

Some Christian families want to redeem Halloween from unsavoury associations (wearing scanty clothing to Halloween parties).

Mother of six Samantha curates the blog www.cultivatingcatholics.com in which she reclaims Halloween as a Catholic tradition.

Halloween is, after all, the evening before All Saints’ Day, which the Church celebrates on November 1st. All Souls’ Day follows on November 2nd, when Catholics pray for all the dead.

“All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows’ Day) is a major feast day on the Catholic Church’s calendar!” writes Samantha.

“On this day we honour not only the saints we know by name in Heaven, but also any saints whose names we don’t know! All Saints’ Day is a day dedicated to them”.

As for those orange pumpkins, those left unsold are unlikely to be a threat to the market favourites, Kent and Queensland Blue.

We keep a close watch on pumpkin prices here at FOMM HQ as our dog lives on a diet of cooked chicken mince and mashed up pumpkin and sweet potato. Those orange pumpkins are edible, if they have not already been carved or left outside for days. Just check the prices.

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One Comment

  1. I recall my English Grandmother, back in about 1975, asking me when “Empire day” was. I had to break it gently to her that Britain no longer had an empire

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