Halloween: why it’s the one American tradition I’m happy to embrace

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

I was brought up by a father who is very resistant to the Americanisms that have crept into our Australian lives over the years. In particular, he strongly dislikes the words ‘elevator’ instead of ‘lift’; ‘cookies’ instead of ‘biscuit’; and tomato ‘ketchup’ instead of tomato ‘sauce’. And to Dad, Halloween is complete commercial overkill.

Before I had children, I would also wax lyrical about the evils of Halloween. It’s too commercial, it’s all about taking lollies from strangers (when we teach children the opposite every other day of the year), and children are starting to say ‘candy’ like it’s a normal Aussie thing.

While I’m still my father’s daughter in many respects, I’m starting to feel that maybe Halloween isn’t so bad.

Every year I take one step away from the Halloween hater I used to be, and one step closer to Claire Dunphy from Modern Family (in which she orchestrates the whole family and house to greet trick-or-treaters, in costume, every year). I still reserve the right to prohibit the word ‘candy’ in my house, but I’m warming up to the celebration itself.

For starters, my kids love it. My daughter wants to prepare the house with spiderwebs and spooky decorations. She’s planning to get dressed up as Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter, and apparently the rest of us are zombies. My son is just happy to be included in her planning, and to tag along where ever his big sister goes. Their excitement is infectious.

Last year was the first time we went trick-or-treating as a family. I was a bit nervous. How did this work? I felt rude, rocking up with my little monsters and demanding chocolate. But it seems that you only decorate your house if you’re a welcome treat-giver. Overall it was a respectful affair. It was also a gorgeous spring night, with quite a few young kids traipsing the street with their parents.

My children have far less independence and freedom than I would like to give them. We’re often rushing home from school and day care to dinner, bath and bed. It’s liberating to have them out and about at dusk.

In my part of the world, some streets are famous for their generous handing over of sugar. Families schlepp in from suburbs far and wide to parade up and down one particular street, then they jump back in their car and go home.

That misses the point for me. Halloween is an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone, our little cocoon, and to connect with our community.

When I was growing up we did that on Fireworks Night (now illegal for many good reasons). Behind our house there was a long reserve, and dotted up and down it would be different bonfires. Kids would run around squealing in the dark while parents drank wine and chatted around the fire while mini fireworks exploded overhead.

With fewer events that bring young families in one suburb together, Halloween gives us that opportunity. Doors open that are often closed, conversations start around a child’s costume and move on to other topics.

‘Candy’ will remain on the banned words list in my house. But I don’t mind them going a bit sugar crazy one night of the year. It’s worth it to watch their delight as the sun sets, to meet new neighbours and chat to old ones, and to tuck them in - exhausted and happy - at the end of it all.

Sorry Dad.