When I grow up I want to be a witch, but seriously...
October 31, 2010 2:26 AM   Subscribe

Halloween in Australia? I'm confused and need guidance for next year.

I hope this isn't chat-filter.

I have a 9 year old boy and a 12 year old girl. They've begged me to go trick-or-treating for the last 2 or 3 years. I refuse, because it isn't mega-popular here yet in Australia AFAIK and I'm not that thrilled about a) letting my kids go wandering about the neighbourhood unsupervised, b) hovering around keeping an eye on them while they're annoying neighbours for whom Halloween means nothing, and c) eating stuff that is given to them by strangers.

That said, everytime the doorbell rings I've been doling out choc-coated muesli bars (inadequate, I know, but it was the best I could do after a weekend camping trip) and hurriedly-prepared bags of microwave popcorn, the truly awful triple-butter stuff. I've also made a sign for the front door, in the shape of a coffin, with a poem saying something like "if you've made an effort and worn a costume, please knock. If you've bought a cheap mask from the $2 shop and worn it with your street clothes, go on... I dare you. ASK!" With a picture of water pistol.

This came about after we had 2 gorgeous little girls - adequately supervised by a parent hovering at the front fence - dressed as a witch and a zombie bride. They had made the effort to dress up, the zombie bride had a white lace dress and fake blood (ie, Revlon lipstick number such-and-such) down her chin, the witch had the cutest little broom I've ever seen and was done up from head to toe. I was happy to give them chocolate.

But then we were inundated with teenage boys wearing a cheap mask and normal street clothes.

I suspect Aussie kids love the idea of Halloween, especially my gory horror-movie-loving son, but I don't want to bug the neighbours, and I don't want my kids to have doors slammed in their faces. And someone deep down inside, I'm "country-ist": Halloween is an American thing, it doesn't really relate to Australia.

Am I a nasty cow to deprive my kids of this? Am I a party-pooper to deprive the teenage boys of crap snacks, because I guess they're teenage boys and it's too much effort for them to dress up? Are there Aussie parents on Metafilter to give their opinion, please?

And how ingrained is it in the US? Does EVERYONE participate?
posted by malibustacey9999 to Society & Culture (51 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For the first time time in 10 years, some kid yelled from our (locked) front gate "Trick or treat?" I replied "No thanks." I guess there are a lot of young families near here (we've recently moved to the Gold Coast), but that was one kid only. Just the one.

If you want your kids and their friends to enjoy Halloween, throw a halloween party. Because it's my daughter's birthday as well, we've done that, and it's been an amazing success. Kids love to dress up, they're not annoying the neighbours, and you can provide some of the magic inherent in the Hollywood version we get sold on.
posted by b33j at 2:42 AM on October 31, 2010

And how ingrained is it in the US? Does EVERYONE participate?

Well, not EVERYONE participates. There's been a bunch of Evangelical Christian anti-halloween agitation in the past decade, and I see less trick-or-treating in the high-immigrant-population coastal community I live in now than I saw in my midwestern community growing up.

But trick-or-treating is very, very standard in the US. Many communities organize trick-or-treating in terms of setting aside hours (sometimes scheduling it for a weekend day close to the 31st). As people have gotten more concerned about safety and more paranoid about their kids over the past 20 years or so, there have also been more organized, supervised trick-or-treat events held in malls or shopping districts, as opposed to kids just running around the neighborhood.

But I would never be caught on Halloween without candy to hand out.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:23 AM on October 31, 2010

I can't give you any advice as how Halloween should go in Australia, but I can answer your last question about how ingrained it is in the U.S.

It depends on where you are. I grew up in the Northeast and there Halloween is big. Really big. Almost everyone participates either by taking their kids trick or treating or giving out candy or having/going to Halloween parties. About the only people who don't participate in some fashion are people who object to it on religious grounds (Jehovah's Witnesses, conservative Christians, etc.). My theory on why it's so big in New England/The Northeast is that Fall is a really important time agriculturally for that area and it's become sort of a tradition and the large number of people of Irish descent in the Northeast brought all their Halloween customs with them.

Now I live in the Southeast and it's not quite as big here. For one thing there are many more people who object to it on religious grounds. Also crime is much higher down here, so people are scared to take their little ones out trick or treating after dark. That being said, still a fair number of people participate. Halloween is pretty popular wherever you go in the U.S.
posted by katyggls at 3:32 AM on October 31, 2010

I like b33j's idea about throwing a party instead. We've done it a few times which is my Aussie way of dealing with the Americanisation of holidays. As well as costumes, we've have five hours of clips from horror and vampire films projected onto a huge wall which sets a great tone. Decorating the house and the front gate/fence etc is heaps of fun for kids. As they get older, it might be a nice tradition to have the Halloween parties at your house and get a bizarre collection of macabre decorations that teens might enjoy too.
posted by honey-barbara at 3:53 AM on October 31, 2010

Ugh. Please don't do it. I love the variety of cultures that get imported to Australia and enjoy, for example, Diwali and Chinese New Year and so on, but door to door begging annoys me.
posted by pompomtom at 4:05 AM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Could you take the kids trick or treating to pre-arranged houses? You could organise it with the parents of your children's friends, like a progressive dinner party.

I know your kids are old enough to realise that's not the same as real trick or treating, but its better than them spending the night getting confused looks and doors shut in their faces by strangers.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 4:39 AM on October 31, 2010

I've been arguing this with friends on Twitter all night. The big problem as I see it is that Australian kids don't know the rules/etiquette of trick-or-treating. As a few others have mentioned, in the US communities will organise a single night for trick-or-treating. Kids know to only go to houses that are decorated and have lights on. It's a good system, and there's no hard feelings for someone who doesn't want to participate. It's not door-to-door begging when it's properly organised. (If somebody can get me 10 minutes on "Today Tonight" next year, I'll happily clear up all the confusion.)

I know that some schools are now having Halloween parties; perhaps that would be an option? Give the kids an excuse to dress up. Or you could find out if any of your neighbours are interested in trick-or-treating and then go to each others' houses. At any rate, make sure the kids ONLY go to houses that have some sort of Halloween decoration up.

(And just because I can't resist poking the wound again... While yeah, as an expat I agree that a lot of American imports are complete and utter crap - hello "Two and a Half Men", I'm looking at you - the vitriol over Halloween is just utterly confusing to me. I get that some people legitimately aren't interested, but a lot of it just smacks of anti-Americanism. As pompomtom points out, we have a lot of holidays and festivals from other cultures. It's only when they're uniquely American that people get all bitchy. What's the problem with dressing up and candy?! Good and good! Just take the good stuff and leave the bad! Everybody wins!)
posted by web-goddess at 4:48 AM on October 31, 2010 [10 favorites]

I've had no door knocking where I am in Perth this year. I think I would have been slamming doors in faces if there had been.

grumble.. grrraar... get off my lawn

It just isn't our tradition, and to my mind it isn't one that should become ours. It's overly commercial, it's all about bloody sugar, and it's ultimately predicated on threatening other people's peace and quiet if they don't cough up.

That said, the kids out the back had a party, and I thought that was okay. Do that instead, and I'd imagine your kids friends' parents would thank you for solving the issue for them too..
posted by Ahab at 4:56 AM on October 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

I remember some kids coming around to our place about 20 years ago wearing costumes. I had no idea what they were doing at the time. Never seen anything like that since. I think university students usually organise something, but as an excuse for a party more than anything.
posted by thesailor at 5:04 AM on October 31, 2010

As pompomtom points out, we have a lot of holidays and festivals from other cultures. It's only when they're uniquely American that people get all bitchy. What's the problem with dressing up and candy?! Good and good! Just take the good stuff and leave the bad!

The problem is being bugged by other people's kids. Diwali means I share sweets with people. Chinese New Year shuts down a fair bit of my neighbourhood, but I could ignore it if I wanted. Other exports which involve me getting hassled at my doorstep (say: Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) piss me off. This is not anti-Americanism.

(I actually have no lawn...)
posted by pompomtom at 5:17 AM on October 31, 2010

An Australian friend has just made an excellent blog post about how she came to the decision to celebrate Halloween with her kids, and what they did with it. She actually sent notes to all the other houses on her street announcing their intention to trick-or-treat at a certain time, and asking if those who wanted to participate would put their porch lights on. It sounds like it was a great success! So there's another idea for you.

pompomtom - The problem isn't with Halloween; it's kids being annoying and rude. When kids are being annoying and rude at an event, I don't blame the event. I blame the parents who let them run wild.
posted by web-goddess at 5:23 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with you - this is for the Seppos - let 'em keep it.

You know, I was reading this with interest, and came across this term. I have a couple of very good friends in Australia, and I never heard it, and after I looked it up, I know why. I'm not certain that name calling is really necessary.


That said, as someone in the midwest (Chicago to be exact), Halloween is very ingrained here. Lots of kids trick-or-treating, lots of adults drunkenly stumbling around in awful store bought costumes. It's gotten to the point that when I see a really cool homemade costume, I get totally excited.

I will not disagree that Halloween is pretty commercial (it's becoming almost as commercial as Christmas ), but there is a lot of creativity that's still around. I agree that throwing a Halloween party for interested kids (and adults!) would likely be the best way to go. I couldn't imagine trick-or-treating in a place where it isn't a custom.

For me personally, Halloween has almost always been my favorite holiday. It could be the fact that my birthday is the next day though(come on - one day you get to dress in costume and get candy, and the next you get cake and presents and both days are all PARRRTTTYYY. What little kid WOULDN'T love that?).
posted by bibliogrrl at 5:58 AM on October 31, 2010

It's pretty well engrained here. For example, TV shows tend to have specific Halloween episodes, just like they'll sometimes have a Christmas episode... Children's series novels will have a Halloween book.

Also (Washington DC area) most elementary schools and probably high schools will have some kind of decorations, many kids will wear costumes to school on the closest day, so on and so forth. There are haunted houses advertised (signs along the road)... Malls and shopping centers hand out candy. Amusement parks have Halloween celebrations. People can be kind of intense with decorating their houses...

Definitely even if you don't celebrate Halloween you know what it is.

It usually goes in four stages:

1) Infants and toddlers, parents spent a lot of time on the costume, kid isn't old enough to know what's going on, parents just want to show off how cute their kid is.

2) Elementary school age, parents still do most of the work on making costumes, but the kids really, really care. They'll tell their parents exactly what they want and nag until they get it right.

3) Teenagers will throw on a mask and try for candy. All teenagers are hooligans at heart, holidays don't really change that. Probably the best thing to do is give them less-than-prime candy (packet of candy corn).

4) Adults... often dress in slutty costumes if single, tend to wind up very drunk.

In other words, people tend to act like they are but more so. Obnoxious teenagers are more obnoxious. Kids at the people pleasing stage are even more sickeningly sweet. It's just what happens.
posted by anaelith at 6:05 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hate the trick or treaters and I refuse to participate.
The weather this year has been very rainy in Melbourne which has hopefully kept idiots indoors.
It's also spring racing carnival & end of the academic year, and people seem to be dressing up and wandering around the streets with any excuse so I've spotted a bunch of people dressed unusually but I'm not sure what it is they are up to.
That being said, Saturday night I attended a Halloween themed party, which was good fun. Most people there dressed up, it was run by a gaming group, so lots of great creative outfits, but it was confined and there was no inappropriate knocking on doors of unsuspecting neighbours begging for food.
I remember learning about US Halloween celebrations via TV shows like the Charlie Brown specials or movies like E.T., and I recall being envious of the loot American kids could amass, the thought of doing it here never crossed my mind. It's just not an Australian thing to do.
So this year with all the rain we had no one knocking on the door.
Last year I remember it was really hot, and we had a posse of people knocking on our door. We had lights on & they knew we were at home - my daughter fled to her bedroom and I yelled thru the door that I couldn't open the door & they needed to go away.
2008 I didn'y notive any Halloween thing at all
2007 I answered the door and there was a 3yo Batman who gave ME a bag of lollies. He was adorable and we swapped him a chocolate muffin. I think he lives 2 doors down, but we've not seen him since, cos like, he is Batman.

My feeling is that this is not an Australian thing, even though it is becoming more wide spread. (I was in my local IGA this afternoon and a zombie came in while I was waiting at the checkout)
Trick or Treating is obnoxious and not to be done, unless you are 3yo Batman handing out treats, or doing the door thing with a a door dressed as old ladies.
I know a couple of Australian parents who think taking their kids out trick or treating is fun, but i think they are immature idiots who are using their kids as excuses to live out their own fantasy of collecting free chocolates & dressing up.

My motto this year has been that if anyone Trick Or Treats me I'll be lighting a bonfire in their front yard on November 5th for some more inappropriate international celebrations.
posted by goshling at 6:28 AM on October 31, 2010

One thing about America - it is pretty socially unacceptable for kids older than 11-12 to go trick-or-treating. It is perhaps embarrassing.

Those teenagers in a cheap mask wouldn't be as much of an issue.

If I were you, I'd open the door and says 'Guys, if you want candy, go down to the 7-11 and buy some.'
posted by k8t at 6:52 AM on October 31, 2010

...unless they are Alf Stewart.

Had to look that up, too. "Alfred Douglas Stewart is a fictional character on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. ... He is commonly known for his use of declining Australian slang with sayings such as 'strewth', 'stone the flamin' crows', 'flamin' mongrels' and holy grandpa on a stick, grandma'."

And this tidbit: "The misappropriation of the name, Alf Stewart, in an Australian Facebook page was condemned as an insult to sexual assault victims as well as a smear on [actor] Ray Meagher's name. It led to calls for the social networking site to be more closely monitored."*
posted by ericb at 6:55 AM on October 31, 2010

Anaelith's stages are right on but add in that it is a huge holiday for college students. Adults past mid20s? Halloween is possibly 50-50 participation.
posted by k8t at 6:56 AM on October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en is not a U.S. thing, it's a North American thing. Here in Canada, Hallowe'en is as big as anywhere on the continent, since it was settled heavily by Irish and Scottish. Because really, it's is a Celtic thing, and it's origins go far back past the founding of the U.S. If you don't like it because you it is from the U.S, you needn't.

Trick or Treating as it is practiced on U.S. television is the particular tradition of North America, but just as Christmas traditions vary from place to place, so do Halloween traditions. However, the practice of dressing up and asking for stuff at houses is not strictly North American. It was imported, from Guising traditions in Ireland and Scotland. And lots of places have similar begging customs at different times of year.

It sounds like folks don't like how Trick-or-Treating is done. I agree with web-goddess, kids are brought up trick-or-treating, and know not to go to houses that don't have the lights on. I also agree with Anaelith, obnoxious teenagers are obnoxious. It's not the holiday, it's them.
posted by girlpublisher at 6:56 AM on October 31, 2010 [11 favorites]

Sounds like what's lacking in Australia is the clearly-understood norm in America that you only trick-or-treat at houses with the lights on and with a pumpkin/jack-o-lantern/other decorations on the front steps. If you do not wish to participate, are out of candy, or have been handing out candy for three hours and are bored now, you go inside, shut the blinds, and turn out the porch lights. You are left alone. Usually we sit on the porch with our basket of candy and a couple glasses of wine and chat with neighbors and their kids until we get cold, and then we go inside.

Trick-or-treating is more common in the US in single-family-home neighborhoods; in apartment complexes or very apartmenty areas you don't see it as much unless something is organized in advance. It's not unusual to have "trunk or treats" in cases like those, where a bunch of parents all gather in a local church or school parking lot and have a little party where the kids go car to car and get to "trick or treat" and then at the end they do party things. Also mall trick-or-treating, etc., as others have pointed out. It's so important in American culture that it's not unusual for families who live in unsafe areas of town to drive their kids to safer areas of town to trick-or-treat. (Some people don't like this but I don't begrudge it -- kids should be able to experience the magic of childhood without worrying about being shot.)

It's pretty normative where I am that the kids don't trick-or-treat once they're in high school (14ish), though there's always a few. It starts to taper off in junior high (11-13 or so).

The first year I lived here we had over 250 trick-or-treaters. We've had more or less depending on the weather. Lowest count was 179, as I recall. We go through a lot of candy.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:59 AM on October 31, 2010

So if I don't buy these little thugs off with sugar, they egg my house?

It isn't the US cultural imperialism that gives me the shits, it's the junior protection racketeers. GTFOML.
posted by flabdablet at 7:35 AM on October 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

Hey, you gave us Fosters, we gave you trick-or-treating. Seems fair.

Where I live there are no sidewalks, no street lights, and few children. I didn't get a single trick-or-treater last year (or the year before, or the year before, etc.) so I don't even buy candy anymore.

In my town it's very common now to pack your kids up in the car and take them to a posher neighborhood - or at least a planned McMansion community.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:58 AM on October 31, 2010

First off, listen to girlpublisher re origins of Halloween.

Practical points: When I lived in Canberra in the early 00's, we bought candy to distribute to anyone who came to the door in costume and we left our porch light on. Teenage kids in masks would have counted as costumed, although I don't remember any ever coming. We only had a few kids each year.

Teenagers trick or treating wasn't the norm in my American childhood...in my family we weren't permitted to trick or treat after the 6th grade, and older kids that you'd see out were normally accompanying their younger siblings. Parties were more the done thing for us when we were teenagers.

My Australian sister-in-law and one of her little mates went trick or treating many years ago...think they did bed sheet ghost costumes. No one knew what to make of them and gave them stuff like cans of evaporated milk. Ha ha ha. But it was all in good fun and I don't think anyone was mean to them about it. I think it helped that they just went along their street, where everyone knew them and their families.

If my family ends up back in Australia, now that we have a kid, I wouldn't encourage him to trick-or-treat, as I wouldn't want a child to have to deal with some of the attitudes on display in this thread.
posted by toodles at 8:38 AM on October 31, 2010

Okay, I don't know about the Australia aspects of trick-or-treeting, but don't worry about them eating stuff from strangers. WSJ just had an article on that. Short answer: No child has ever been killed by poisoned candy. Ever.
posted by 6550 at 8:44 AM on October 31, 2010

So if I don't buy these little thugs off with sugar, they egg my house?

This is actually pretty unusual. I mean, pumpkin smashing and house egging on Halloween happens, but in my experience, egging is done by older kids who didn't actually trick or treat at all, and the houses that get targeted for egging are ones where the teenagers don't like the other teenagers who live there, or where one of the teens in the group lived and was angry at his parents -- it really has nothing to do with whether you did or didn't give out good candy.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:57 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

The problem is being bugged by other people's kids.

Wow, some people really need to lighten up. The rule is you only go to houses with a pumpkin on the front step. Don't want to participate? No pumpkin. Out of candy? Blow out the pumpkin candles, turn off the porch light, go inside, as others have said. Halloween is a ton of fun - lots of cute little kids in cute little costumes going around with their parents. It can be a great way to meet people in your neighbourhood if you have kids, and it's super-fun for the children.
posted by Dasein at 9:11 AM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Now I live in the Southeast and it's not quite as big here.

Small side note - I grew up in the US Southeast and participated in trick-or-treating along with virtually everyone in my small Louisiana hometown. The only people who did not participate were the extremely devout fundamentalist Christians, who at that time at least, formed a very small minority of the community.

While I definitely recognize the bizarre paranoia about "crime" - in most places where there is fear of crime there will be organized events for parents to bring their children to, usually during daylight hours. Fear of crime usually isn't enough to completely suppress participating in Halloween.

So if I don't buy these little thugs off with sugar, they egg my house?

I get the sense that this is how the tradition evolved in the early 20th century, but actually, no. That is not how it works. At all.

Trick-or-treating is for children, toddlers up through 11-13. It's an organized community event. As others have said, there are unspoken cues as to which homes are participating. All participating homes obtain a supply of candy to give out over the course of the night. Every child in costume who goes to the house gets a piece of candy. There is no begging and no retaliatory pranks, probably because there is no context in which a participating home would refuse candy (it's no more a protection racket than, say, the Mexican tradition of Las Posadas at Christmas). And also because it's all geared towards small children. Who are generally supervised by their parents.

I've noticed here in New York City that there's a little more hooliganism than I'm used to associated with Halloween - but that has nothing to do with trick-or-treating.
posted by Sara C. at 9:56 AM on October 31, 2010

[few comments removed]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:14 AM on October 31, 2010

I know of one Australian who got over her reflexive anti-Halloween feelings by treating it as an opportunity for her child to learn about a tradition from a different culture. It wasn't specifially trick or treating in that case - the kid wanted to make jack o' lanterns. But maybe you could think of it that way, a fun learning opportunity. (Which perhaps you would have done naturally, if the holiday had been popularly associated with a country other than the USA?)

I do think that there's not much point to trick or treating when it's not really done where you are. What if you did it in reverse, where your kids knocked on the neighbors doors and gave them candy? It's not the traditional way, but hey, it's not your tradition! As I understand it, what's so offensive to people there is the "asking for candy aspect" - perhaps they'd be less grumpy if they were given a present instead.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:47 AM on October 31, 2010

Another Halloween tradition that might ease some anxiety about the begging for candy element: kids sometimes collect pennies and small change for charity while asking for candy. When I was growing up, a UNICEF penny box was standard Trick or Treating equipment.
posted by pickypicky at 1:48 PM on October 31, 2010

I don't think it actually matters that much how it is done in the US because that's not where we are and not how it's done here. In New Zealand, and Australia by the sounds of it, Halloween means kids banging and banging and banging on my door in the evening, often followed by banging on my window and shouting when I don't answer. Kids I don't know, have never seen before, have nothing to do with. Yeah you have rules to stop that and it would be nice if people here knew about them. But they apparently don't and personally I resent the big box stores that brought the tradition here because it means I get hassled for the last few days of every October just so they can sell lollies. It has nothing to do with being American and everything to do with being obnoxious and somewhat aggressive.

The way to get around this is prepare ahead of time, as several people have mentioned. Talk to your neighbours and friends and find out which ones are prepared to join in, then only go to those houses. This has the upside of encouraging others with kids to also join in, it's always better with more kids involved and will help the overall tradition spread. It means your kids don't get turned down anywhere, which is nicer for them, prevents the begging from strangers aspect as you're only asking people you know (even if only a little bit), and doesn't bug anyone who doesn't want to be bugged. I know several people here in NZ who do this and it works just fine. Definitely ask neighbours with kids but also those without, plenty of people like to see children in cute costumes. Personally I think you need to actually talk to them (on the phone or in person) rather than a mass letter drop, because if you don't know someone well enough for that then you don't know them well enough for your kids to be banging on their door. But it probably depends on the nature of your community and neighbourhood, so whatever works.

The only way around the current problem of kids hassling everyone with no sense of tradition or decorum is to teach them how to do it properly. Preparing the ground ahead of time is the best way to do this. Given that trick or treating is still relatively new and not very widespread it definitely needs to be opt in rather than opt out, although if your neighbourhood has a tradition built up then I can see how that could change.

Having a party is also a nice idea, however it doesn't really address the issue of people being hassled. Prepared trick or treating teaches your kids that they can't just go knock on doors willy nilly, but are welcome to knock on doors where they know they're wanted. Which is really what we all want in the end.
posted by shelleycat at 1:49 PM on October 31, 2010

Oh, I should also mention that it's not very many kids, just two or three groups per year. One year I was at my parents and everyone in the neighbourhood trick or treated and it was a 'thing' and actually pretty cool. We knew to expect it and were prepared, and the kids were well behaved. But no one in my neighbourhood does it, or at least don't come to the houses without children. Instead we just get a few random groups appear in cars or vans with children that are rude and don't get that we aren't interested. Having strangers climbing through my garden and breaking my plants sucks no matter what day of the year it is.

This is why I think it kind of depends on your neighbourhood. And if there are other children around then organising it more properly to make it a 'thing' that everyone does is a really good approach. Those that still don't want to take part don't have to, everyone else is more prepared, and the expectations for what the children do are laid out more clearly. You're clearly into it and so are a few others in your area so it seems you have the seed of the good kind of halloween there. So work on making it a cool community tradition rather than a yearly annoyance.
posted by shelleycat at 1:59 PM on October 31, 2010

Wow, some people really need to lighten up. The rule is you only go to houses with a pumpkin on the front step. Don't want to participate? No pumpkin. Out of candy? Blow out the pumpkin candles, turn off the porch light, go inside, as others have said.

Perhaps you could come around and explain that rule. We're talking about the Australian experience here, and if you'd followed the conversation you'd see that this socialisation does not exist. There's not a carved pumpkin within miles and I got hassled last night, and I live in a suburb most famous for its quality purveyors of heroin.
posted by pompomtom at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2010

It seems that the underlying issue for Australians (and/or New Zealanders?) is that this is a tradition that has to be embraced as a group. It's not an individual activity one can take up without a sort of social contract with the surrounding community. If there isn't a critical mass of people who all see trick or treating as a community tradition worth establishing, then you're going to have things like obnoxious kids using the existence of an irrelevant tradition as an excuse to behave obnoxiously, or maybe a few game individuals trying it out with strange results.

I'm also wondering how apropos it is, as a tradition, considering the milennia of connection with the autumn harvest. For instance, are there even pumpkins happening in Australia this time of year? Do people carve pumpkins in April and May when they would be in season? I'd be curious to learn more about how Northern Hemisphere cultural traditions have evolved in a part of the world where the seasons run on the opposite schedule. From Wicca I'm dimly aware that there is some switching around of the Wheel Of The Year. But I'm not really sure how even that works, and it's something that is much more directly tied to seasonal changes than something like Halloween.
posted by Sara C. at 3:15 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah I think the main problem is that a minority of kids want it to be just like they see on TV, the whole street decordated and all the kids and their friends out getting lollies, and everyone knows The Rules etc.

But of course as its not a thing here, most people don't decorate, don't buy lollies beforehand, don't dress up, don't do anything and are somewhat suprised when confronted with this cultural transplant that, bereft of all the other trappings, seems very out of place.

It seems like the kind of thing that, in a few generations, might be a thing but at the moment its in an awkward stage.
posted by Admira at 3:31 PM on October 31, 2010

It seems that the underlying issue for Australians (and/or New Zealanders?) is that this is a tradition that has to be embraced as a group.

I think Sara C. has totally hit the nail on the head here. You don't need everyone doing it, but you do need enough to make it worthwhile along with some way of delineating who has bought into it and who hasn't. So go out and get that buy in and encourage the tradition!
posted by shelleycat at 4:01 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sara C. - No, there is no carving of pumpkins at any time of year. There is painting of eggs for Easter though.

Unless you specifically follow Wicca or Pagan traditions and reverse them as needed, none of the traditionally seasonal holidays make any sense.
Easter is in the middle of autumn, Halloween is in the middle of spring. Christmas is in the middle of summer.
Halloween & Christmas both fall within Daylight Savings time for most states, so it's not even dark until well after 8pm in may places. At Christmas, people still decorate with trees (most people I know have plastic trees, but many people buy a real tree), fake snow, etc. and eat Christmas pudding with custard. It's becoming quite popular to do a Christmas in July, where some restaurants will put on the traditional northern hemisphere Christmas dinner in the middle of winter.

There are no houses with Halloween decorations, pumpkins or otherwise. Porch lights? Again, in many places it's not even dark until after 8pm. Our porch (all 1.5 square metres of it) is lit by a motion activated light, so it's being on or off does not indicate a welcoming or otherwise.
As Pompomtom said, Australians haven't grown up with Halloween traditions, so people are not aware of the social mores of Trick Or Treating that some posters above seem to think we should be familiar with. Many of us don't even tend to use the word "candy" to describe our sugary food items.

malibustacey, by all means celebrate Halloween with your kids if you want to. I think getting them dressed up and going around giving OTHER people treats is a really fun idea, but you should notify the neighbours ahead of time.
Decorating your own house & having a party would be great too. I remember dressing up when I was in grade 2 back in the late 70s for a class Halloween party. We did bobbing for apples, and the blind fold thing with food (peeled grapes as eyeballs, cooked spaghetti for - I dunno, brains or guts or something gross) and other games. Pin the hat on the witch?. Invite their friends & maybe some of your neighbours. Have the party in your front yard if you have one, or a local park and give treats to people passing by.
posted by goshling at 4:03 PM on October 31, 2010

Hi, another Australian here. ^_^

A friend in Canberra recently tried an opt-in system for their suburb for Halloween Operation: Orange Balloons.

It seemed to work well for them.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 4:11 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Trick-or-treating is more common in the US in single-family-home neighborhoods; in apartment complexes or very apartmenty areas you don't see it as much

Just for the record, most big NYC apartment buildings have trick or treating, with either a decorated door or a sign up sheet to let kids know where it's ok to knock. I remember riding the elevator for ages with my little UNICEF box and my princess costume, going back to 5E three times because they had Snickers. Not as picturesque as a night street crunchy with fall leaves and smelling of wood smoke, but you didn't have to wear a coat and it didn't matter if it rained.
What shocks me as an increasingly crotchety adult is seeing kids these days going shop to shop demanding candy. That's just wrong. Australians, if you import our most excellent of all holidays, try to skip that part.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:25 PM on October 31, 2010

I've never been trick or treated before. But this year two of the local primary school bullies showed up in the middle of the day "disguised" in a bunch of crap commercial costumery that was obviously supposed to look like something from one of their favorite age-totally-inappropriate slasher epics, announced "trick or treat" and just kind of hung about until my beloved bought them off with packets of chips.

No pumpkin was harmed in the making of this fiasco. Hell, the pumpkin plants are still seedlings. They're planted in containers in the front yard, and if I did actually manage to dent our Local Troubled Youth's sense of entitlement by denying them treats, I have no doubt I'd find them mysteriously uprooted.

I know who those kids are and what they are like. I know what they get up to at school. I know that they have shitty home lives that have led them to specialize in covert intimidation and plausible deniability. I am glad they will no longer be at the school by the time our own little one is big enough to become a subject of their attention. And I know full well that the only reason they're out trying on the trick-or-treat thing this year is because this is the first year that the local shops have got solidly behind promoting sales of Halloween accessories.

Halloween totally fails to work in the Southern Hemisphere, and doesn't have anywhere near the local momentum that keeps Australians eating a heavy roast meal in the middle of a blazing hot summer day at Christmas. If it does ever take off in this country, it will not be because it's traditional; it will be because Big Commerce has decided to try to fill the gap between Father's Day and Christmas, and as far as I'm concerned it can Just. Stay. Home.
posted by flabdablet at 5:10 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm an American living in Australia. I don't think it's a sensible addition to the Australian calendar. Harvest festival traditions are incongruous in the springtime. For that matter, I've been puzzled by my two Australian Christmases, as a number of (European) winter solstice traditions have been maintained. (Nothing quite like a nice roast joint with harvest veg, followed by a good heavy plum pudding with hard sauce, in the scorching midday heat.)

I think if Australians are going to adopt North American/Scottish Hallowe'en celebrations, they need to talk to their neighbours and sort some ground rules. Pompomtom - technically, yes, trick-or-treating is door-to-door candy begging, so much so that Hallowe'en is referred to as Beggars' Night in some regions. In Canada and the US, though, there are recognized traditions for opting out (as, I suppose, there are for encountering economically-driven begging, but that's probably another thread). The simplest one can be adopted by anyone, anywhere: just don't come to the door when you hear children's voices. Fear of reprisal is misplaced.

Full disclosure: I opt in at every opportunity. I like seeing toddlers dressed as pumpkins, and five-year-old wizards. Even my curmudgeonhood gets a workout - I enjoy the opportunity to look up into a teenager's face and ask if he's painted on that mustache or if he might be a bit old for candy. But I don't think Australian parents should feel railroaded into participating.
posted by gingerest at 5:41 PM on October 31, 2010

I'm Australian and I love the idea of Halloween. I've held Halloween parties in the past. I love the whole idea of dressing up and making cool decorations and food and coming up with creative costume ideas. But I don't think Halloween works at all in Australia. It's partly a time of year thing and partly, as Sara C. says, that there is no critical mass here.

Time of year: ok, it was cold and wet in Melbourne this year, but most of Australia is experiencing warm-to-hot weather at this time of year. Sunset isn't till nearly 8 PM - the porch light can't go on that early and it's difficult to avoid kids when you're out working in the garden or taking the rubbish out on a Sunday night, which is how we got trick-or-treated yesterday. Carved pumpkins and candles and lights and general spookiness just don't really fit in with the advent of summer. The only reason you'd know it was Halloween is that the major stores have begun really pushing decorations and pumpkins over the past couple of years, and major costume stores are advertising on TV.

We buy a packet of lollies every year to give out, but in twenty years I think we've seen trick-or-treaters four times. None of them were wearing costumes. This year the only ones we got were teenagers in jeans dragging along their Royal Melbourne Show showbags for their loot, which felt mercenary and cheap. In fact next year I'm going to refuse lollies unless the kids are wearing costumes (I like your idea of having a sign about the lack of costumes!)

I'd love to have a whole bunch of little costumed kids turn up, but I don't think it's ever going to happen.
posted by andraste at 6:18 PM on October 31, 2010

We didn't see any evidence of trick-or-treaters around our place this year, which was a relief because I didn't even realise it was Halloween until it was too late in the day to actually get anything for them should they arrive. I don't think we saw any last year, either. And this is in a bit of suburban Canberra that has lots of young families in it.

I have been watching some of the debate on Twitter amongst the Aussies about Halloween, though. In general, folks with younger kids like the idea of it, though are probably resigned to the fact that 9 out of 10 houses will turn them away empty handed. People without young kids embrace their inner curmudgeon and vow to have nothing to do with it.

Had we been adequately prepared, we'd certainly have handed out treats to any well costumed kiddies brave enough to make it to the front door despite the barking of our dog, but would have still viewed it as a bit of a weird imported custom that meant nothing to us.
posted by damonism at 6:46 PM on October 31, 2010

I'm an American who lives in Melbourne but currently visiting family in Massachusetts. I took my nieces (age 4 and 5) trick-or-treating tonight and it was AWESOME. Great costumes, people being creative, fun, and friendly with their neighbors. The problem with Halloween in Australia, as others mentioned above, is that there isn't a protocol. In North America, you go to the houses with decorations and their porch light on. You skip the houses that are dark. No light, no candy. When that rule isn't followed, you get a bunch of grumpy or confused Australians complaining.

My suggestion is to host a Halloween party next year for your kids and their friends- costumes, prizes, candy, pumpkins, and the whole shebang- they can enjoy the holiday (and it is a super fun one) without annoying the neighbo(u)rs.
posted by emd3737 at 8:01 PM on October 31, 2010

Hah, screw Halloween as a festival of death. Really, here, it makes more sense as a Carnival or Mardis Gras sort of thing. Lots of partying and identity play, with long warm nights to have fun in.

For kids, seriously a party is your best bet. Get them round in the afternoon and take advantage of the long days, have a bbq and play wet games (bobbing for apples if you want to be appropriate; the party I went to on Saturday had a lolly bag treasure hunt for the kids).

Really, I know when I was a kid the lure of Halloween is that you can dress up in public! You get a whole night to go out and play pretend and all the adults have to go along with it. The lollies were really subsidiary to that.
posted by Jilder at 9:26 AM on November 1, 2010

Perhaps you could come around and explain that rule.

Just put a sign on your door and don't answer it. Problem solved.
posted by Dasein at 10:41 AM on November 1, 2010

Just put a sign on your door and don't answer it.

You're still assuming it's cold and dark. It's not. The days are really long by now and the weather is just warming up. Hiding inside with my door shut is the last thing I'm doing in the evenings.

You're also assuming we get one polite knock then they leave. They don't. They knock. And knock. And knock some more. Followed by climbing through the garden, banging on the windows, yelling at us, all generally watched by a bored parent. If we're outside then getting rid of them is impossible, they've been told there will be lollies and don't get that we don't want to give them any.

Clearly the special rules that stop this being obnoxious in other countries have not yet translated here. There is a certain level of education that still needs to occur, which is why many of us are suggesting talking to neighbours first and setting something up because it's a good way for that to happen.
posted by shelleycat at 11:54 AM on November 1, 2010

Thanks, all. Your comments are much appreciated. I think a new family tradition of giving treats to neighbours might be in the works.

This time next year, we'll be living in a neighbourhood which seems to be predominantly older retired people (when I drive past, they're all pottering around in their gardens during weekdays). I really really REALLY like the idea of my kids doing the reverse-trick-or-treat thing. Based on the clamouring for my home-made sweet treats at Nanna's nursing home, I think a cute little orange-cellophane-wrapped package of a couple of different homemade biscuits and a chunk of my ginger rocky road would go down well with most of our potential neighbours.

I will warn the neighbours in advance, that's a good idea too.

And there will probably be a late afternoon party, because we love dressing-up, I love making costumes for my kids, I would kill to have an excuse to attempt pumpkin-carving, and... I love a party.

(Extra brownie points for those who posted relevant blog links. They were great. As was Pompomtom's statement about his suburb being known for quality purveyors of heroin. I literally laughed out loud.)

Thanks again.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 12:43 PM on November 1, 2010

Tip on the pumpkin carving: wait until as close to Halloween as possible to buy the pumpkins if you want the variety traditionally used for carving. Coles/Woolworths have had them for the last few weeks, but they started out at $27 a pumpkin!! Apparently they dropped in price as it got closer to Halloween, according to my brother-in-law.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:36 PM on November 1, 2010

$27 a pumpkin?!? Good grief. Thanks for the tip, AnnaRat, we will wait til the last possible minute.

See y'all in 360-ish days, when I ask a question about how to resurrect a badly-carved pumpkin.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:06 PM on November 3, 2010

And how ingrained is it in the US? Does EVERYONE participate?
"Some perspective here: On Tuesday, some 37 percent of Americans are expected to turn out to vote. On Sunday, some 66 percent of Americans celebrated Halloween."
From: The Adult Halloween Craze Started in Gay Culture.
posted by ericb at 1:55 PM on November 6, 2010

I just found this - such a great idea :)
posted by honey-barbara at 7:47 PM on December 8, 2010

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