In an article a few years ago, the Sydney Morning Herald described the opposition of the Catholic Church to the rise of Halloween as a family activity, reporting:
The Vatican issued a warning to parents, saying they should not allow children to dress up as witches or ghosts for an ”anti-Christian” celebration of ”terror, fear and death”.
The warning came in the Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, in an article which said: ”Halloween has an undercurrent of occultism and is anti-Christian.”
For many Australians there’s no need to raise Satan as an argument against Halloween, the fact that it’s American is enough!
Every year around this time, early childhood education discussion groups will turn to the topic: are you celebrating Halloween?
It might be an old chestnut to roast, but since it’s Amplify’s first Halloween, we decide to throw that chestnut on the fire anyway and see what popped out!
Halloween’s ancient origins
Quoting again from that helpful SMH article, we summarise:
- Halloween began as an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, which is derived from old Irish and means roughly ‘summer’s end’.
- The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the ‘lighter half’ of the year and beginning of the ‘darker half’.
- The term Halloween, originally spelt Hallowe’en, is shortened from All Hallows’ Evening, the night before All Saints Day on November 1.
- Irish immigrants brought Halloween to the US during the mid-1800s.
- Halloween activities have been spreading globally since the 1970s, spurred on by American films and television programs.
But how American is Halloween anyway? While the US may have adopted the tradition more spectacularly than any other nation, the same could be said about its devotion to high school sports. Is the US to blame for Halloween, or for creating the idea that the rest of us are missing out on the fun?
Halloween around the world
There is a full Wikipedia entry devoted to the Geography of Halloween, which captures related celebrations in many other countries, often predating the US. Would Australians – many of whom claim UK heritage – be more comfortable with Halloween if instead we called it, English style, All Souls’ Eve and families stayed up late and ate little “soul cakes”?
At the stroke of midnight, there was solemn silence among households, which had candles burning in every room to guide the souls back to visit their earthly homes and a glass of wine on the table to refresh them.
Should we embrace the many Scots among us, who, apparently, coined the term?
The name Halloween is first attested in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even, that is, the night before All Hallows Day…. [a] 1780 poem made note of pranks at Halloween; “What fearfu’ pranks ensue!”.
Or perhaps we can take heart from the more modern experience of the Swiss:
In Switzerland, Halloween, after first becoming popular in 1999 is on the wane, and is most popular with young adults who attend parties. Switzerland already has a “festival overload” and even though Swiss people like to dress up for any occasion, they do prefer a traditional element, such as in the Fasnacht tradition of chasing away winter using noise and masks.
Halloween in Australia – love it or loathe it?
We asked our CELA Facebook followers what they thought, and offered to publish a few of the best (with a CELA voucher reward!).
Adele, a preschool assistant who lives in Echuca, wrote as a parent:
As a parent of a 5 year old boy who has yet to discover Halloween as a holiday tradition, I for one, am more than happy to keep it this way in our family. I neither like nor loathe Halloween – I’m indifferent, or neutral, about it, never really gave it a second thought, to be honest. This is probably due to the fact the as a child my sister, parents and I never celebrated. Halloween was something we saw in American tv shows and movies as we grew up, but we never felt the inclination to emulate.
These days however, and as an early childhood educator, Halloween has become more of an Australian tradition as well. As our curriculum is interest learning, if children show any provocation towards participating in this celebration, we may purposely plan or spontaneously provide support towards this. We will find out the origins or purpose of the holiday – the point of which seems to be missed in Australia, rather it’s seen as an opportunity to dress up, knock on a neighbours door and collect lollies. Yes, this is fun and a great way to socialise with community, but like Christmas the point of which can be overlooked unless it’s ingrained into a family such as those with a strong religious identity, it’s more about the ‘receiving’ of something.
Again, as a parent, if my son comes to me this year with a need to participate after hearing peers discuss what they do, we will most likely discuss this and try to come to some sort of resolution. But, I’m still more than happy just to let this candle in the pumpkin be snuffed out quickly.
While Emma, an early childhood teacher now working in community development, who is most passionate about children’s rights and the inclusion of the voice of the child, said:
Halloween, while not a traditional Australian holiday is meaningful for families from other countries. In addition, some Australian families have taken on this holiday and have made it an important part of their family culture.
I find it irritating that large corporations would abuse this and see it has a great opportunity to increase their revenue in costume and confectionary sales, but I would not want to offend another family just because I do not approve.
I think Halloween highlights the importance of critical reflection and constant consideration of inclusive practice. An important part of inclusion is to allow families to celebrate and share what is meaningful to them. In addition, although a service might not fully embrace Halloween, discussions surrounding its meaning is another opportunity to teach children about the world they live in. Conversations could even branch into celebrations being a great opportunity to spend time with others and enjoy their company.
While a confectionary “free for all” isn’t my idea of a meaningful learning opportunity, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to include Halloween in a more beneficial way for children and their families.
Christine, an educator from southern Sydney, fell firmly into the ‘love it’ group:
Halloween has been a really big deal in our suburb for about 15 years – it won’t be long before we have parents here who did trick-or-treating in the early days! It’s easy to criticise it as being American but it’s actually European and the American aspects are really strongly supportive of safe communities for children. In Australia – especially in cities – children are increasingly invisible, and Halloween street events put children and their families back in the public eye. I admit I wasn’t a fan in the early days but we embrace it as a rich community engagement now and it helps us connect with our families – everyone is given the choice to dress up but no one ever refuses!
While Jess, an educator from the Gold Coast, was our pick of the ‘loathe’ it messages!
Let’s just set aside that this is about celebrating death and bringing spirits back to life – which is a totally inappropriate subject for very small children. And let’s not focus on the costumes, which can reduce even the preschoolers to terrified tears and trauma.
And let’s not pick on America, because they can’t help being over the top with everything.
Let’s just look at the phrase ‘trick or treat’ and the way it teaches children to DEMAND lollies with the threat that if they don’t get them they will do HARM!!!
Oh yes: tell me again how it’s just a harmless cultural celebration!
Adele, Emma, Christine and Jess, congratulations for being the pick of the crop and we’ll email you details about your CELA vouchers.
And now: let’s talk about Christmas…
Meet the author
Bec Lloyd is the founder and managing director of Bec & Call Communication, providing professional writing, editing and strategy services to the school and early childhood education sector since 2014. In 2018 she launched UnYucky mindset and menus for happier family mealtimes. Formerly the communications lead at ACECQA and BOS (now NESA), Bec is a journo and mother of three who produces Amplify for us at Community Early Learning Australia.