We never “did” Halloween as kids; my parents dismissed it as an American custom, and is it controversial to say that Australians are just a bit lazier than Americans when it comes to elaborate costumes and lavish festivities?
Some have religious objections, too, though that varies: some churches batten down the hatches, others throw open the doors – with a photo booth for local families trick-or-treating, or an All Hallows’ Eve service or celebration.
I discovered just this week that “hallow” is in fact (in noun form) another word for a saint or holy person. All Saints’ Day (November 1) celebrates those who’ve gone before – hence All Hallows’ (Saints’) Even (E’en): Halloween. This point in the year was once a moment to attend to the thin veil – thinner than we often imagine? – between the living and the dead, the world of flesh and blood and the spirit world.
I also came across a wonderful prayer from the old days (2017) which characterises this night of scares as a moment to face “our fears, the shadowed places of the mind … the cold thin place between waking and sleep”. It enlists God’s help on behalf of the struggling, “those who most fear the knock at the door” and “those seduced by treats or hurt by tricks”. It declares “Lord, your light shines into every darkness” to give us “courage, a candle in the window unhurt by the wind”.
That seriousness seems a far cry from the supermarket tat and the themed doughnuts and the half-hearted or gloriously over-the-top costumes. For that matter, the traditional Halloween vibes (like snowy Christmas scenes) jar with our longer and warmer days. But I don’t see why Halloween can’t also be an acknowledgement that there is always much to fear, and far more to hope.