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Should we really be celebrating Halloween in Australia?

Are you a fan of Halloween? With the influx of American culture into our society, there are polarising opinions about the commercialisation of yet another tradition. Yet each year, Halloween is becoming more prominent in Australia.

There are more celebrations, better costumes, decorations, and a bigger aisle dedicated to Halloween in our supermarkets. But underneath the fake blood, cotton wool cob-webs and face paint, is a holiday that encourages community engagement.

So should we be resisting or embracing it?

How did Halloween actually start?

Deakin Business School researcher and consumer behaviour expert Dr Paul Harrison says Halloween has become a ‘product of US culture’, yet the history is vastly different to the tradition we celebrate today.

Did you know Halloween originated as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain? People would dress up for the occasion to ward off ghosts before All Saints Day on 1 November. Followers of the Celtic religion believed that the barrier between our world and the world of ghosts, ghouls and spirits became thin at the end of summer and ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ would banish the evil spirits.

Although Halloween as it’s now celebrated barely references its early traditions, Dr Harrison says cynics of the tradition should focus on the positive aspects of Halloween rather than the popularised version developed in the US.

Why is Halloween so popular in America?

When the Irish immigrated to the United States they brought with them their traditions, including Halloween. From then it has taken off and become the tradition celebrated today.

America’s National Retail Federation reported 193 million Americans celebrated Halloween in 2020, with consumers splashing $8.05 billion on everything from decorations and candy to a costume that will win you the prize for best dressed.

Despite the costumes, candy and pumpkins, there is still a community aspect of Halloween, which Dr Harrison says is a positive of the holiday and something to embrace. ‘This is families gathering, children spending time together and going outside – what’s wrong with that?’ he says.

So what about Halloween in Australia?

In Australia, there are polarising opinions on the holiday being celebrated here.

Dr Harrison says that the negative connotations surrounding the holiday are often a ‘knee- jerk’ reaction due to its commercialisation by the United States. The perception the US is ‘taking over Australia with their marketing’ can turn people into cynics of the tradition, but Australia has a strong history of ‘borrowing’ rituals from other countries, Dr Harrison explains.

‘We have a strong history of adopting all sorts of rituals from other countries and cultures, so why should Halloween be any different to any other element of culture that we borrow from others?’ Dr Harrison points out.

Halloween is not the only holiday Australia has adopted. St. Patricks Day, celebrated on 17 March, celebrates the patron saint of Ireland, and is wildly celebrated across the nation. So too is Valentine’s Day on 14 February, a day associated with all things love.

‘As human beings, we look for rituals, we look for community through the things we do, and as other community rituals and institutions such as churches or strong familial and neighbourhood linkages break down we look for ways to replace that,’ he says.

But what is now the grassroots of the tradition – the children trick-or-treating, pumpkins being carved, and communities spending time together, can still be achieved without buying into the Halloween hype. ‘You can still do Halloween, but you don’t need to buy Halloween,’ Dr Harrison says. He adds that the community element is lost when the commercialisation of the holiday takes over.

Dr Harrison believes Halloween has ‘caught on entirely’ in Australia, and cynics should turn their criticisms towards the commercialisation rather than the grassroots ritual. Looking past the commercialisation of Halloween, you will find a holiday that brings people and communities together.

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Dr Paul Harrison
Dr Paul Harrison

Senior lecturer in marketing, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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