Why Australians should lose snobbery and embrace Halloween, the U.S. tradition could save suburbs

Halloween is literally on our doorstep again and with each passing year it is getting more difficult to say no to kids in the street with their colourful costumes, cheeky grins and enormous appetites.

Too many of us don’t even know our neighbours, let alone spend time with them, so shouldn’t we lose our sense of snobbery surrounding a borrowed American tradition and simply embrace the opportunity for fun and a better sense of community?

While it is tempting for some to lock the doors, turn out the lights and park their cars around the back, the heady mixture of children’s laughter, chats with neighbours and a street wide sugar hit for me outweighs the negatives.

Besides, as our lives get busier and responsibilities pile up, many people yearn for a simpler time and the sense of community many of us knew growing up in the suburbs.

Father-of-two Darrin Barnett believes Halloween could help Aussies embrace their neighbours (pictured Mr Barnett’s kids)

Reconnecting with those who live in our street as well as casual acquaintances from nearby and the loose affiliation of parents with kids in common at the local primary or high school is surely a good place to start.

Halloween itself is a national holiday in the United States, which a little bit of research suggests is celebrated by ‘some 70 per cent of the population who in turn spend about $9 billion USD on candy, costumes and decorations’.

Which leads to the first obvious problem – that there is no such thing as candy in Australia.

As I have pointed out to both of my primary school-aged kids this week, we eat lollies here and candy is consigned to the same linguistic scrapheap as diapers, soda and vacations.

As for the visuals, dressing up as a ghost, Count Dracula or even your favourite superhero fits the criteria for about 50 per cent of kids’ parties and last time I checked, the carving of jack-o-lanterns carries no historical significance in Australia.

While an American mainstay, Halloween’s origin is from the Celtic festival Samhain, where people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.

A neighbour of Darrin Barnett in Sydney's decorations for Thursday night's Halloween festivities

A neighbour of Darrin Barnett in Sydney’s decorations for Thursday night’s Halloween festivities 

It was long ago adapted for use by Christian religions, with Pope Gregory III in the eighth century designating November 1 as All Saints Day, and the night before becoming known as All Hallows Eve and later Halloween.

Halloween has been the basis for many a horror flick over the years and is probably best known for its catch cry ‘Trick or Treat’ as kids wander from door to door in search of tasty treats or a minor scare.

These days, it is undoubtedly commercially driven and amounts to a chocolate maker or dentists’ dream.

While that description also goes some way to describing Easter and Christmas, at least many of us make the effort to attend church and the focus tends to be on family.

Christmas prompts family members to overcome petty differences and busy lives to celebrate together while Halloween allows us the opportunity to make an effort to connect with our local community.

As someone who lives in a street that goes way over the top for Halloween, my hardened stance is diminishing, largely due to the enjoyment it brings.

My kids, unlike the lead-up to many other celebrated days of the year, are actually looking forward to this one.

All week they have been compiling their costumes, seeing what their friends are wearing and doing, and concocting their plans for a maximum yield of lollies and fun.

Come dusk, my street fills with children in an array of costumes ranging from the downright ghoulish to the absurd while I get a front row seat and the guilty pleasure of loading them up with sugar without having to take any responsibility whatsoever.

In addition to neighbours, my children’s friends and their families pop by and there is nothing wrong with making a couple of distinctly local additions to all things Halloween such as a barbeque and a couple of beers.

Amid all this enjoyment, the last thing I want to be accused of is being the fun police.

Of course, it can all go too far; it’s all about getting the balance right.

Mr Barnett believes the American tradition brings back a sense of community within neighbourhoods full of strangers

Mr Barnett believes the American tradition brings back a sense of community within neighbourhoods full of strangers 

There have been media reports this week that some households on Sydney’s north shore are spending up to $1,000 on lollies in preparation for tonight’s festivities, with 1,700 kids expected on their doorstep. 

Even if you’re a millionaire, that’s patently absurd so I went to my local supermarket this week to see what $1,000 could buy.

I thought that maybe one way to put a local spin on things is to provide familiar Australian favourites as treats.

Due to heavy discounting, it turns out you could walk away with more than 5,200 Caramello Koalas or Freddo Frogs for your thousand dollar outlay.

With those sorts of numbers you could open a zoo let alone feed an army of children.

At more than three chocolate animals per child, there are sure to be some left over and come this time tomorrow I know a few kids who will be on a sugar low and desperately looking for somewhere to go.

By then, we should all be afraid. Happy Halloween!


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