It’s that spooky time of year again! Despite it not being part of our traditional culture, Halloween in Australia is growing in popularity.
It’s little wonder; who doesn’t enjoy the opportunity to put up some decorations, have fun with dress ups and gorge on lollies? Halloween can be as much fun for adults as it is for children, because it provides a great excuse to get together with friends and family.
You may notice more and more people gathering to celebrate on October 31st. Here’s some background information and tips if you’re excited to get involved in Halloween in Australia this year.
What is Halloween and why is it celebrated?
The origins of Halloween date back to ancient times. Two thousand years ago, in the lands now known as the UK and Ireland, the Celts marked the new year on November first. It was the time when the warm weather ended and the long dark winter approached.
According to History.com, the Celts believed that on their New Year’s Eve, the “boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred”. They celebrated what was then called ‘Samhain’ (pronounced sow-in). On this day, they believed the ghosts of the dearly (and not so dearly) departed returned to Earth at this time.
It was thought that some spirits came to cause mischief and harm crops. Communities gathered around bonfires on this mystical night, offering food and animals sacrifices to keep troubles at bay. The early Halloween costumes worn as part of these celebrations were definitely freakish. Most of the time, they were styled from animal heads and skins.
When the Romans invaded the Celts’ territory several hundred years later, they brought with them their own traditions of honouring the dead. ‘Feralia’ was an ancient Roman public festival celebrating the spirits of the departed. During this festival, Romans brought offerings to the tombs of their deceased ancestors. According to their beliefs, neglecting to do so would result in disgruntled spirits “rising from their graves in anger, howling and roaming the streets”.
This tradition is believed to have blended with Samhain and another Roman festival. This one honoured Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees, which was celebrated at around the same time.
By around 1,000 AD, Christianity’s ‘All Souls Day’, which also fell in early November, entered the mix. This was marked in a similar way, with outdoor fires, costumes and parades. Samhain switched its moniker to ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and eventually the holiday became known as Halloween.
Interestingly, the term ‘Hallow’ refers to Saints rather than ghouls. This is because our devilish friends take the chance to come out to play the night before ‘Hallow’s Day’. This is when the Christian faith tells us to honour Saints and notable holy figures who are no longer with us.
Halloween across the world
Nowadays, Halloween has become known as more of an American tradition, despite having origins in Celtic, Roman and Christian folklore.
In the early days of American settlement, the event’s links to paganism meant it wasn’t widely celebrated. However, as more immigrants arrived from different areas, particularly Ireland, the tradition of Halloween and the mid-autumn festival of ghosts and fire came with them.
As we have all witnessed, Halloween has evolved to epic proportions in the US. Pumpkin-themed paraphernalia takes up huge amounts of space in retail outlets throughout October and even in months before.
Mexico, Spain and parts of Latin America have a similar festival at this time, known as Día de los Muertos, or All Souls’ Day. Celebrations leading up to November 2nd honour the dead, who are said to return to visit their families on Halloween. It is standard practice to set up an altar with photos of the deceased. People also leave offerings such as their favourite foods.
What happened in the UK?
Funnily enough, despite the close links, UK doesn’t celebrate Halloween with as much gusto as people in the US. This is mostly because it moved away from the Catholic-based faith. Halloween in Australia has come about because of the strong influences of American culture. While we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Independence Day, Halloween’s costumes, parties and goodies are too tempting to miss out on. Add to this plenty of television shows which celebrate the occasion and it’s no surprise more and more families say “why not?” and join in the fun. It’s pretty safe to say that Halloween in Australia is here to stay.
Bobbing for apples
Bobbing for apples is a common game on Halloween. This is in part due to the aforementioned Roman festival honouring fruit and trees. The game also reflects a superstitious practice. Each young girl in the village would ‘mark’ their apple before they went into a barrel full of water. The young man who pulled it out (hands-free, of course) would supposedly be her future spouse. Halloween in Australia doesn’t usually involve bobbing for apples – yet.
A jack-o-lantern is another ubiquitous Halloween decoration. While we tend to carve pumpkins and put candles inside, this tradition actually kicked off with a turnip. Here’s the old legend, as shared recently by Business Insider:
One night, a local drunkard named Jack trapped the devil himself in a tree. In exchange for letting Satan escape, Jack had him vow to never claim his soul.
Jack proceeded to act badly for his whole life and when he died he was denied entry into heaven. Unfortunately, the devil wouldn’t have a bar of him either, and he hurled a piece of hot coal at him.
With nowhere to go, Jack placed the blazing coal in a turnip to use as a lantern. The dead man then set out, doomed to wander until he can find an eternal resting place.
Why do we now use pumpkins instead of turnips? In the USA, they are in season during October, and the insides are used to bake a pumpkin pie. Plus they are a great size and shape to have fun with. Halloween in Australia is helped along by Coles and Woolworths – both chains usually big bays set up with bright orange pumpkins.
There are a few different stories surrounding how trick or treating came about. One tells that Halloween was not considered a safe night to be out and about because of all the loitering spirits who were up to no good. To prevent themselves from being harmed or tricked by a ghost, people began to dress as other-worldly spirits themselves. Then they figured they may as well get in on the prankster action, demanding offerings in exchange for not causing damage and destruction.
The modern-day equivalent to this theory is that you give the ghoul a Mars Bar and they will not torment you any further. The term ‘trick or treat’ itself came about in the 1920s. A reporter mentioned how young folk were gleefully threatening to play tricks if goodies weren’t offered.
A less dastardly history comes from medieval times when ‘soulers’ would beg rich folk for ‘soul cakes’ on Halloween. In return for the ‘treat’, they would pray for the souls of the donors’ relatives. For better or for worse, Halloween in Australia is really all about the dress-up. The souls of dead relatives don’t generally get a mention.
Halloween in Australia: How to be prepared
If you have young children, Halloween can be a very exciting time to share with them.
Trick or treating always takes place on October 31st, however, you have to pick the right time. Too early and nobody will be home from work (if it is a weekday). Too late and it will be getting dark and all the good lollies will be gone.
If your children have their hearts set on trick or treating, most families set out at around 5.30 pm. Halloween is Australia is still gaining momentum. For this reason, you may wish to drop notes in letterboxes in your local area in the week running up to October 31. Let your neighbours know you will be coming around and ask that they turn a light on or put up some form of decoration if they want to participate.
Trick or treat etiquette
The rules of trick or treating are well known across America but some Australians are not so familiar with them because Halloween in Australia is still pretty new. Here are ten points to consider, that should help clear things up:
- Firstly, while showing up in your school uniform or plain clothes may get you some lollies, it is expected that children go to at least some effort to dress up.
- On arrival, look for a light, jack-o-lantern, poster or decorations which indicate the house is participating in Halloween. If the gate is locked or there is a big sign saying ‘Go Away’, it might be you who ends up on the receiving end of a trick!
- It is considered good manners to wait until other children have finished at the door of someone’s house before charging up and grabbing handfuls of goodies. Speaking of handfuls — this is not what you are entitled to. One item per child is plenty and it is not polite to rummage around looking for your favourite flavour.
- Some parents provide their children with a shopping bag or a special bucket to collect their treats in. In the US, the loot piles up quickly. With Halloween in Australia still gaining momentum, one bag or bucket should be plenty. For some families, trick or treating ends when the bag or bucket is full. Others allow their kids to race home, dump their stash and start afresh.
- Children are reminded to say “trick or treat!” and many adults expect a full explanation of their ensembles. Of course, please and thank-yous are appreciated and will stand your kids in good stead for next year. For safety, it is not recommended children enter people’s houses when they trick or treat, unless they know the owner well.
Guidelines for the home-front
- Those giving out lollies should make sure they are individually wrapped for hygiene reasons.
- Fruit is a general no-no at Halloween, partly because children don’t see it as a treat these days and also because of urban legends telling of razor blades being inserted into apples before they are handed out. This may never have happened, but you can’t get in the way of a good scary story on Halloween.
- Homemade gifts may not be consumed because of untrusting parents so it is probably not worth going to the effort of baking unless you will only be sharing treats with children whose families you already know.
- Hand out health bars at your own risk… you may end up on the receiving end of disgruntled trick or treaters!
- Also, leaving a bowl full of candy at the front door because you are going out will result in a lottery win for some children and disappointment for the rest. It’s best to leave someone behind to man the fort (and to make scary noises as kids walk up the front path).
The idea of dressing up at Halloween centres around the tradition of honouring or fearing the dead. For purists, this means your costume should resemble a ghost or spirit.
This has evolved into all manner of terrifying ensembles, from vampires and witches to skeletons, brain-eating zombies, monsters and axe murderers.
According to Wikipedia, by the 1930s people had started giving up on the scary theme and were choosing popular culture references for their Halloween garb. This night has evolved into an excuse to be creative and have fun, for adults as much as children. These days, you can expect to see movie characters, fairy princesses and unicorns (plus Spiderman and Elsa from Frozen on every corner).
When it comes to preparing a costume for Halloween in Australia, it is completely up to you how much effort you wish to put in. Raid the dress up box for something simple, hit Spotlight for some fabric and facepaint and get creative with the sewing machine or order a mask and costume from an online costume supplier (put your request in at least a couple of weeks in advance or you may miss out on shipping).
Left it to the last minute?
An excellent last-minute costume to fall back on is the old bed sheet with holes cut out (so long as you have a bedsheet to spare!). A few white bandages and some red paint can transform a small person into a mummy in under 20 minutes. And a roll of tinfoil, some rubber gloves and a pie tin can make a pretty cool robot or spaceman. If all else fails, rip up some old clothing, splash it (and the child) with some mud, matt their hair and voila! You have a freshly hatched zombie.
It can be fun to set up a ‘trick’ at your front door with a spooky skeleton, a scary soundtrack or even a little water pistol. Keep in mind that children as young as two will be fronting up so don’t make things too freaky!
Every now and then some overzealous children decide to pull tricks such as throwing eggs or toilet-papering people’s front yards. This is an inevitable part of the holiday but there are usually adults around to pull them up on their silly behaviour.
How will Sydney, Australia will celebrate Halloween in 2018?
PUMPKIN CARVING PARTY
When: Friday, 26 October 2018
Where: The Royal Botanic Garden
“Learn how to carve pumpkins with imaginative designs, from basic to elaborate.
All skills welcome and carving templates will be provided (including botanic and Australiana) or create your own design. Various methods and techniques will be reviewed and discussed, all to the backdrop of a haunted soundtrack.
Pumpkin carving tools will be provided and while you work on your design, we’ll roast the seeds for you to enjoy and take home.
Bring your own pumpkin and leave with a masterpiece to light at your front door.”
More info: Click here.
When: Saturday, 27 October 2018
Where: Centennial Park
“Trick-or-treat your way through the spooky activity stations in Centennial Park.
Children follow a map, complete challenges, collect a prize at the end… and stay on the lookout for some of our creepy swamp creatures.
Be sure to wear your spookiest outfit and scare your friends!”
More info: Click here.
HALLOWEEN CRUISE XII
When: Saturday, 27 October 2018
Where: Bungalow 8, Sydney
“Sydney Harbour Bookings presents the famous Halloween cruise. This cruise is the ultimate experience for Halloween celebrations. Be early to book this as it sells out every year. Win a NYE cruise ticket for best dressed.
“You’re invited aboard our fabulous party cruiser as it transforms into a haunted house on the high seas! Expect plenty of treats aboard the ghost cruiser costume extravaganza!
Ghouls! Goblins! Ghosts! Zombies! Warlocks! Witches! Creepy crawlies and all the spooky things that go bump in the night! Halloween Cruise XI will be setting sail again! You’re not going to want to miss this! Come in your best monster costume, be prepared to get down to the beats of the live DJ on board, and take part in the non-stop cash bar.
Our 3 level vessel has plenty of swagger, so bring your friends, bring your significant other, or just roll solo and make friends with some of the monsters on board! You’ll never have more fun than on a cruise like this around the waterways of Sydney Harbour. You’ll see all the famous landmarks up close while imbibing with like-minded holiday revellers.
Creep aboard our vessel and enjoy:
4 hour tour (yes, we said a 4-hour tour!)
Halloween-themed specialty cocktails, libations and magic potions
DJ and dance floor (get ready to do the Time Warp again!)
Moon Deck (caution: beware of werewolves!)”
More info: Click here.
When: Sunday 28 October, 2018
Where: The Royal Botanic Gardens
“Join us for some spooky Halloween fun in the Gardens!
Following your Garden Monster map, you will visit five stations where you will be tricked and treated.
Finish your Halloween adventures at the Calyx and visit the new Plants with Bite! carnivorous plants display.
Don’t forget your costumes!”
More info: click here.
HALLOWEEN DINNER: RACA
When: Wednesday 31 October, 2018
Where: 89 Macquarie St, Sydney
On the spookiest night of the year, we here at the club are getting in the spirit of things as we host our first ever Halloween dinner!
Join us for 1 special night as we turn the Harbour Dining Room into a Haunted Mansion.
Ghostly ghouls and scary spirits prepare a delectable 3 course meal for you.
Book in early to avoid missing out on this exclusive dinner.
More info: click here.
THE ULTIMATE HALLOWEEN CRUISE
When: Wednesday 31 October, 2018
Where: Lime St, Sydney
What: Looking for wicked Halloween events in Sydney?!
Celebrate Halloween 2018 with our spectacular Halloween Harbour cruise!
Cruise by Sydney’s major harbour landmarks aboard the Ultimate Halloween Party hosted by the Award Winning OzParty crew on a super sexy triple-level catamaran!
This sell-out cruise includes $6 drinks specials, $6 portguese barbecue delights, amazing Sydney Harbour views, top resident DJ, fun party games and free pre and after-party!
Join 350+ international partygoers in spooky fancy dress at this super fun Halloween party in Sydney.
Come celebrate with us and make Halloween 2018 a night to remember!
Is Halloween Un-Australian?
While some people think Halloween should not exist in Australia, there is no denying the event can be a lot of fun. It is a great opportunity to get the kids outside for a walk, even if the sugar cancels out the exercise.
Halloween in Australia has the benefit of happening when the weather is warming up. You can organise a group, head out while it is still light and make it home before dark.
While this holiday is gathering momentum around Australia, at the end of the day the choice to participate or not is yours. Just make sure to ration the treats you allow your children to eat in one go. If you don’t, the trick will be on you thanks to a bunch of devilish imps who are full of sugar!
Why do some Australians NOT celebrate Halloween?
There are many Australians, mostly of older generations, who are worried about American traditions being infused into Australian culture. Despite most Australians drinking millions of litres of Coca Colas, eating thousands of Big Macs at McDonalds and watching a plethora of Hollywood movies on Netflix every single day, these people believe Halloween is “unAustralian”. However, retailers are realising the great opportunity it presents and now costumes, decorations and candy (or lollies as Australians call them) selling more and more every October. Teenagers – who’ve been influenced by TV and movies from the US – are starting to use it as a reason for partying while even some clubs in big cities like Sydney and Melbourne are starting to hold theme nights with dress ups for young adults on October 31 or the weekend following it.
What to do after it’s all over
In 2018, Halloween falls on a Wednesday. It’s Lucky 8s draw night at Lantern Club, which is always a great day to visit. If you have small children, the last thing you’re going to want to do is cook dinner, so pop into MàZi for a yummy wood-fired pizza that everyone will love. We promise not to put any pumpkin on it (unless you ask us to).