THE TRUE HORROR OF HALLOWEEN

I’ve written about Halloween before. If you missed it, it’s here.

But if you’re already so riveted by this incredible piece of literature and can’t be arsed navigating away, I can summarise:

I can take it or leave Halloween. But I just wish that we as Aussies would pick a side.

So we’re doing this? Great. I have a section of scrapbooked Woolies magazine recipes and ideas for five years worth of whole-family-themed costumes ready to go. Bring it.

Or is it ex-nay on the alloween-hay? Great. Hurray for the fight against childhood obesity.

The thing is, the upward pressure is definitely there from those under 5 feet tall.

But when push comes to 31 October shove, lobbing up to your neighbour’s doorstep and demanding confectionary is easier said than done, given our current antipodean indifference.

And until this year, this is what I’ve always tried to explain to our children/use as an out: not everyone in Australia celebrates Halloween.

So when we decided to take a trip to the States this year, the kids cottoned on pretty fast.

Are we going to be in America for Halloween?

Yes.

And everyone in American celebrates Halloween?!

…Yes.

SO CAN WE GET DRESSED UP AND GO TRICK OR TREATING IN AMERICA ON HALLOWEEN?!?!?!?!?

….oh my, what have I done…yes…?

What I didn’t count on, though, was that Halloween in the US as an Aussie interloper is fraught with as much doubt as it is at home.

We planned to be in Sleepy Hollow, NY, for the big night because it was in the path of our general homeward trajectory and also because what’s spookier than a Headless Horseman?

So once we were en route and the kids’ feverish anticipation for trick or treating threatened to boil over, I thought I’d better do some research.

And the results, fittingly, were horrifying.

If Halloween falls on a weekday, some towns actually do their Halloween festivities on the Saturday prior, which we’d missed.

What’s more, apparently there’s a nation-wide push to move Halloween from 31 October to the last Saturday in October. #therealissues

Also, there are timing guidelines from town-to-town so that householders aren’t expected to sit by their doors with a bowl of lollies until all hours of the morning – and – those general timing guidelines are designed to be cross-referenced with the weather forecast of the evening for maximum rain avoiding.

Then, Google led me down a path of demographic trick or treating justification, for example: if we simply wandered out of our hotel and started knocking on doors, it’d be a while before we reached anything other than a petrol station, Dominos or a car yard.

But apparently the town two towns over has a population in which 1 in 4 residents is under the age of fourteen, so surely a hotbed of neighbourhood trick or treating activity?!

Or not? I’m so lost.

And then, the straw that just about broke the haunted camel’s back, the Google search yielded a guide to known sex offender’s homes in your area, to keep your kids safe on Halloween.

Nooooope. I’m out. Too hard basket.

And yet… the kids were so excited. And they’d put up with a whole holiday completely devoid of any theme park action. We’d even stopped at a Walmart to pick out costumes – Cinderella and a Minecraft Creeper.

How could I let them down?

And this is the real horror of Halloween – meeting your kids’ lofty expectations. It was hands down the most stressful part of our trip to date.

In the end, it wasn’t a white knight (or headless horseman) that came galloping to the rescue, it was Hoff.

Apparently (in a fit of genius) he searched “trick or treating near me” and up popped a local mall, whose retailers were getting into the spirit by handing out lollies to all and sundry.

So we headed to the (gigantic) mall, marveled at all the brilliant costumes, and happily enjoyed the trick or treating experience whilst safe, dry and secure in the knowledge that we were perfectly welcome until 8pm, or until the lollies ran out.

And fortunately, night two in Sleepy Hollow was dedicated to the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze, should trick or treating turn out to be a major fizzer.

Simply put, it was 7,000 carved pumpkins, on the grounds of a nearby historical manor (the Van Cortlandt Manor), arranged into all manner of whimsy, from a fully functioning skeleton horse carousel, to the pumpkin Statue of Liberty.

It was glorious.

As I stood and watched a maniacal jack (o’lantern) in a box, spring from it’s box (made entirely of carved pumpkins), it reminded me of the true spirit of Halloween – the frivolous spooking of ourselves for no other reason than to raise the heart rate and have a bit of a giggle. With a sprinkling of harvest folklore and imagery thrown in for good measure.

And further, everywhere we’ve been in the last couple of days, there’s been people – shop assistants, hotel staff, medical receptionists (long story) – falling over themselves to ply the kids with lollies and engage in a conversation about their Halloween experiences, which the kids have loved and has been truly touching on the whole, I must say.

So Australia, when you’re ready to take a vote – I’m in. Let’s do this. Vote 1 Halloween. I’m ready.

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HALLO-WEIGHIN’ IN

When I was almost two years old, we spent a Halloween in Canada with friends. We went trick or treating and apparently at one of the very first houses, a man opened the door with a gorilla mask on and I spent the remainder of the exercise in a fit of inconsolable, terrified tears.

I’ve had a fraught relationship with Halloween ever since.

This year, my son is five and in his newfound independence, he planned a trick or treating expedition with his kindy mates. He was most put out to find that such expeditions require parental sanctions and promises of supervision and unfortunately, he had neither.

Predictably, a blazing row ensued.

As I generally do when detailing complicated situations to my children, I resorted to explaining the whole Australian Halloween predicament in my own, rambling manner, with rampant disregard for the use of terms and concepts that they may or may not understand.

“Because, mate, Halloween is technically a North-American celebration and it’s not something we’ve traditionally celebrated in Australia. Although it does seem to be catching on and nobody is really sure whether this is a result of cynical retailers cashing in on every opportunity to make a buck or a slow recognition that the whole thing is a bit of fun and doesn’t really do any harm. Except to your teeth, bank balance and insulin levels. Regardless, as a society we are all sitting on the proverbial fake cobweb-covered fence and there hasn’t really been a ruling on whether we’re doing this thing or not and in the meantime, the simple truth is, I don’t feel comfortable marching you through the neighbourhood, dressed like a crazy person, demanding candy from people who may or may not be happy to give it to you. And anyway we call them lollies. Okay?”

On the one hand, I understand it’s fun and kids seem to get a real kick out of the dressing up as well as the lollies. Plus I am very pro-sequins and tulle.

On the other hand, I do recognise that we need to be mindful of the infiltration of American culture into our own, which is already so widespread and perhaps a direct contributor to our habit of cultural cringe.

And do we really need another junk-food-based celebration? I’ve often wondered whether our US friends’ quick succession of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas provides some clue as to the incidence of obesity in the US.

(If we did do Thanksgiving here, I’d be thankful for the fact that we only have one holiday-related junk food blow-out in the second half of the year, because even that takes me until March to undo the damage.)

Regardless, my main issue with the whole thing is that I’m well aware there are some people firmly in the anti-Halloween camp and I have no interest in interrupting their peaceful twilight on October 31 by knocking on their door demanding treats for my unruly, sugar-hyped kids. In my experience people are generally a little anti-door-knockers on the whole, let alone ones who revel in costumed anonymity and demand stuff from your pantry.

And we all know that these anti-Halloweeners absolutely exist (hah, weeners), because they write predictable columns in the paper each year – one of the more mundane fixtures of the seasonal news cycle, in my humble opinion.

Nevertheless, come 31 October, my pathological people-pleasing tendencies tend to win out, and I err on the side of caution by leaving the whole trick or treating business alone. Much to the chagrin of my children.

I’m not proud of my fence-sitting, safety-first approach. I opened up Instagram last night and was instantly plunged into a slack-parenting-shame-spiral. Post after post of enthusiastic parents not only taking their costumed offspring trick or treating, but getting into the swing of dressing up themselves! I had this overwhelming desire to ask earnest questions like, did everyone in your neighbourhood get together and decide this was okay? Do you have a secret sign so you know which houses to hit for the free gear? Are Halloween costumes and decorations a line-item in your annual household budget? What the hell people? Did I miss the referendum when we decided we are doing this now? I remember the one about becoming a republic…

In any case, unless I get some concrete answers or actual legislation on the topic, I am doomed to err on the side of caution for the rest of my days. It’s not all bad though. Our son has inherited his mother’s ability to negotiate so he suggested that next we go to America to celebrate Halloween. I’m actually more comfortable with that approach, although it’s probably a false economy in the grand scheme of things. Also, is anyone reading this in the US and can we please come and do trick or treating in your neighbourhood next year? I don’t feel comfortable banging on hotel room doors, demanding candy from fellow holidaymakers…