Monday, November 3, 2008

If you build it, they will come

As I've mentioned in my previous posts about Halloween, it's not something that is celebrated by the wider Australian public. There are pockets here in Melbourne where you might find some children trick-or-treating on Halloween, but it's remained a holiday that is seen as predominantly American and many people shun the idea for that reason. It's easy to understand in this global economy where McDonald's and Starbucks pop up everywhere, that Australians might be a bit sensitive about what they see as the Americanisation of their culture. I think this is the main reason that some Aussies seem to be so dead set against Halloween. That, and in my experience, it's not a holiday they completely understand and as such the fear keeps them away.

As an Expat, I've been torn between trying to hold onto my own traditions and trying to respect the desire of Australians to limit the American cultural invasion of their country. In my particular case, I'm in it for the long haul. My husband is Australian and we have thus far chosen to raise our children here in Australia. With the idea that my children may live out their entire childhood here in Australia, it's become all the more important to me that they learn about and celebrate the American traditions and customs that they are missing out on by growing up here.

Holidays like Thanksgiving are easier to create for them as it's a very personal holiday spent with family in your own home. It's about a good meal and being thankful. It's about being together. I can organise all of that.

A holiday like Halloween, however, is a bit more difficult to reproduce if you will. Anyone who's experienced the fun of Halloween knows that the great joy of it comes from wandering the streets in your costume, meeting friends and neighbours along the way and admiring their costumes and collecting a giant bag full of candy. To create an authentic Halloween experience for my children would involve the cooperation of an entire neighbourhood. How do you convince the skeptical and uninterested? Slowly, but surely. That's how.

With the support of my immediate neighbours, one of whom is an Irish Expat who also celebrates Halloween, I decided to organise a neighbourhood trick-or-treat last year. I made up a flyer explaining the ritual and history of Halloween, stressing the fact that it was an ancient ritual from the days of the Romans and Celts and I passed the flyer out to 3-4 neighbouring streets. After consulting my neighbours, they indicated it made more sense to do a trick-or-treat on a Saturday afternoon as more families would be at home and both parents would be around so one could hand out lollies and the other could take the kids around. So we chose a day and set a time and I included all this information on the flyer. I also included a small orange sign that read, "Trick or Treaters Welcome" with instructions for people who wished to participate to hang the signs on their front fences so the children would know which houses to go to. Then I crossed my fingers and waited to see what happened.

On the Saturday afternoon last year, I hit the streets with my children and to our delight, there were quite a few houses with orange signs. Looking for the orange signs actually added a new and fun dimension to the trick-or-treating as I knew it--it became more like a seek and find. The kids would try to see who could spot the next participating house first. The people in each house were genuinely happy to see the children in their costumes and of course the children were delighted with the lollies they were getting. It was fun watching our Aussie neighbours embrace the trick-or-treat ritual and in many cases, fumble their way through it. There may have been 20 houses out of about 150 that would have received the flyer that chose to participate. Not a bad result, just enough to make it worthwhile.

After the event, people talked as people do. Word got around the local Kindergarten and more and more people expressed interest in joining in the fun in the future. What a wonderful experience for the kids they'd say. Sounds like so much fun. Don't know why we don't celebrate it here. And so the comments went. So this year I decided I'd roll the dice again. I decided to increase the area of my flyer drop to include more neighbourhood families and subsequently create a larger event. I still included the streets from last year, but added some new ones. We stuck to the Saturday afternoon timetable but increased the time from 1 hour to 1.5 hours.

The result was amazing. This year there were probably somewhere near 50 houses participating and the numbers of kids on the street going house to house had increased two or three fold. Many people were participating for the first time and commented on the lovely atmosphere on the streets as neighbours greeted neighbours, in some cases for the very first time. The weather couldn't have been nicer as Melbourne served up a perfectly temperate afternoon. It wasn't too hot or too cold. It was just right.

As I watched my children run with enthusiasm from house to house and collect a lion's share of lollies I had a very special feeling. Here we are a world away from the dusty desert town of my youth, in a country that treats Halloween with nonchalance at best and in these most unusual circumstances, my children were experiencing an authentic Halloween. I'd done it. I built it, and they came. They actually came, and the smiles on their faces indicated they even enjoyed themselves. I can't wait for next year!


MissCaron said...

AWESOME! Halloween is always so much fun. Great time for neighbors to come together for good times. :-)

Scintilla said...

Good on you for your initiative !
I don't think that Australians are 'against it', its really a matter of organizing things rather than letting them start spontaneously. Lets hope that it becomes a tradition in your area!

suzinoz said...

Thanks misscaron. It was awesome and a good time was had by all.

Scintilla-I think you may be right about the organising it bit--what I found this time was that lots of people were keen, they just had no idea how to go about it. It's all still a very foreign idea to them.

Annelise said...

Did you have truck loads of people flying in from Mexico to get the good candy or was this problem not there due to "location, location, location"? haha
Congrats on your success. What were the little ones dressed as? I think you should suggeset Dorothy to your eldest. She may borrow Milo to make the costume complete. Do you think you guys will ever spend a Halloween here so that they can see it on a grand scale?
You rock HAM! Way to organize! errr, organise.

Nathalie said...

I'm so glad that you had as an authentic experience as you can get outside of your home country. It's so important to pass on traditions to your kids. And you didn't let the challenge of introducing Halloweeen to your neighbourhood, stop you from giving your gorgeous kids a part of their heritage. Yay suzinoz!!!

shelby said...

Well done you! That is so great! I bet your kids loved it. I have never been a huge fan of Halloween, but the kids adore it! You would not believe how people are decorating their yards here. It's almost like Christmas, with the lights and yard art. I took some pics. I'll have to send them on to you.

suzinoz said...

Shelby-I'd love to see your photos. I'm sure it's all very over the top! I can only imagine.

Anonymous said...

What great fun for the kids and a community builder at the same time.