this (hal­lowed) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Marie Cleary Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

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.

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