this (hallowed) life
When I was a young bride preparing to emigrate here from America, Australians were described to me as friendly and easygoing. Among so many cultural similarities, it took some time to discover the cultural differences, and learn that sometimes sharing a foreign tradition could end up being more isolating than helpful.
My turn for hosting a children’s playgroup fell on October 31 one year: Halloween.
I invited the children to wear fancy dress and explained that it was not only about ghosts and witches — pirates and fairies would be just as welcome.
My plans for an authentic jack-o’-lantern resulted in a trip across the city to a fruit and vegetable shop, which advertised American pumpkins for $20. (This would be an improvement on a previous year, when I massacred a Queensland blue in an attempt to delight my own children.)
My excitement mounted as I hung the orange and black bunting sent by an American grandma, and devised themed food and games. Mild adrenalin booted up creative energies seldom used as a stay-at-home mum (or mom) try- ing to adapt to a new home in the pre-email and Facebook era.
But my excitement dampened quickly with the arrival in the mailbox of a handwritten note explaining that one particular family was not coming because Halloween was a pagan festival akin to devil worship. Furthermore I had no right to impose American customs on the playgroup without everyone’s consent. (Imagine the viral rant if we had been in the Facebook era.)
The shared memory was missing — of tradition, the feel of anticipation in the neighbourhood. In my childhood, Halloween was an opportunity to be outdoors at night, to create wow-factor costumes and to mingle across the neighbourhood with other children, their chap- erone dads in tow. Who would dress up as the Flintstones or Jetsons this year? And would anyone outdo the year when we did the Addams Family, and Dad was an imposing Lurch?
On each front landing, after admiring the individualised jack-o’-lantern, we were rewarded for our effort with wrapped candy.
The stakes were higher in my mother’s era: a prepared poem, song or dance was the required performance as the “trick” before the “treat”.
Thirty years later, I’m just as miffed as the next person at the plastic paraphernalia in the supermarkets for a celebration that has no meaning here.
I did smile, though, to see real pumpkins for a mere $3.
So this year, I’ll borrow the three little children from next door to help with the entertainment of scooping out the guts and carving it.