There is a bit of cultural cringe when it comes to Halloween in Australia. We don’t fully embrace it because it is seen as yet another way that society is becoming Americanized (yes, with a z, on purpose).
Yet, the origins of Halloween come from Ireland. Way back when, in Ireland, there was a pagan Gaelic festival called Samhain – meaning End of Summer. It marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark half of the year (Winter). It was believed that at this time of year, the boundary between the real world and the Otherworld was thinner. This meant that spirits or faeries (Aos Si) could enter our world easier, and the festival often included leaving out offerings of food and drinks for them, and as an offering that would ensure that people and livestock survived the winter. People mimicked the Aos Si by dressing up and reciting verses in exchange for food.
Other folk believe that Halloween has its origins in Christianity, and means All Hallows Eve – a time for remembering dead, especially saints and martyrs. All Hallows Day and All Saints Day are held on the following days, 1 and 2 November; making Halloween a three day feast. All Hallows Day was initially on 13 May until the year 835 when Pope Gregory IV officially switched it to the same day as Samhain and the two ideas merged into a church run festival that retained many of the traditions of Samhain.
The wearing of costumes stayed, and leaving food out for Aos Si evolved into ‘souling’, a German custom of baking and sharing soul-cakes in exchange for praying for the dead.
In a mix of both origins, there is an Irish Christian folktale that says the jack-o’-lantern represents a soul that has been denied entry into both heaven and hell. In Ireland, people carved turnips, but once people moved to America they discovered the native pumpkin which is larger and easier to carve. So the Americans are responsible for one part of modern Halloween, and they have made the celebration into something that I feel we should be celebrating in Australia. Community.
One of the things I love about our kids school is the diversity of the parents – if you have a question about almost anywhere in the world there is someone who can answer it for you. And yeah, we have an American, so of course, I asked about Halloween over there. The answer was, in essence, the biggest difference is that Halloween in America is a community festival. Many streets work together to close their street from traffic and have a street party. Kids dress up and walk together, with their parents tagging along half a block behind. Houses with lights on have candy, houses without are ignored. Some street parties set up activities like a fete, with apple bobbing, throwing contests, telling scary stories and perhaps a movie to end the night. In rural places where houses are further apart, and sometimes in shopping mall carparks, people organize a trunk or treat set up, where every car is decorated with a theme and kids can walk safely from car to car to receive candy, with their parents watching out for trouble. In typical American fashion, some cities allow parents to use devices like airport security x-ray machines to scan their children’s candy collections for bad things. This is in response to one person, years ago, putting razor blades into toffee apples.
To adapt Halloween to Australia can be easily done, and our school is putting on an event that meets all the basic criteria of community, candy and child safety. We are having a Halloween disco on the Friday night and kids can only attend if their parents come too. It is a great way of bringing the school community together.
The only problem I see with Halloween in Australia is one of timing. As a traditional ‘end of summer’ festival, the dates are wrong for our climate. But you know, almost every festival we have imported from the Northern Hemisphere has that problem, and we just adapt to make our own version. Plus, candy is universal and you can eat it any time of year.
Here are some ideas for Halloween food:
Watermelon Fresh Fruit
Use a sharp knife to cut one end off the watermelon. This will provide the flat section where the watermelon will sit on the plate. Use your knife (and perhaps a spoon) to dig out the inside of the watermelon. Carve the face – I just did triangles for eyes (and left some melon in the back so I could put a grape in the hole as an eyeball). The mouth was just a bit oval, but you could get quite creative. Load up the mouth with fruit, so the watermelon looks like it is spewing out fruit.
- Packet Biscuit mix
Buy a packet of chocolate biscuit mixture and follow the instructions. I added Milo to ours to make it a brown colour. Roll out the mixture into long sausage shapes. Recall your playdough days, and twirl each sausage into a poo shape. Bake as per packet instructions.
Mine had slightly too much butter and went flat, but the kids thought they were hilarious and ate them anyway.
- Snakes Lollies
Make jelly as per packet instructions and pour into small bowls, or large shot glasses. Add a snake or two to each bowl with half the snake hanging out of the jelly. As the jelly sets, the snake can be dropped onto the top of the jelly. If you put the snake completely in the jelly, it absorbs water and becomes a bit odd in texture.
- Cocktail sausages
- Puff Pastry
- Tomato Sauce
Cut your puff pastry into long thin strips, then wind them around the cocktail sausages. Bake in the oven at 180C until the pastry is puffed up. Dip in tomato sauce to eat.
Mini Pizza Eyeballs
- Pizza Dough
- Tomato Paste
- Rocket leaves
Basic pizza dough recipe
- 3 cups of flour
- 1 satchet of yeast (7g)
- Pinch of sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 310 ml of water (1 and 1⁄4 cup)
- 15 ml of olive oil
Mix together and knead for about 10 minutes until pliable. Leave to rise in a warm place for at least an hour.
This should give you six small pizzas or three large ones.
I used a basic pizza dough recipe for the base, but if you are in a rush, you could use small tortillas or small pizza bases from the supermarket. Cover in tomato paste, then cut an olive in half and use each half for eye balls. Place a lump of cheese for the nose, and use rocket leaves to make a teethy smile. Cook in the oven at 180C until the cheese is melted and the base is cooked through – about 15 minutes.