It’s Halloween tomorrow, which brings out a number of things: witches, lollies and hand-wringing opinion columns by Australians opining our cultural colonisation by the US.
And it seems America has noticed. The Washington Post has published 1000 words today on how “Halloween is a controversial day in Australia”.
It cites one of the more hyperventilating columns, by social commentator Van Badham in The Guardian Australia, on how taking candy from strangers leads to involvement in the Vietnam War. Oh and it’s out of season (white Christmas fans take note).
But then The Washington Post column gets really interesting as it explores just whose imperialism is responsible for Halloween.
As the Post points out:
When Australians refuse to celebrate “Americanized” Halloween, they’re actually resisting an originally British holiday and holding on to Victorian ideals that died out over a century ago.
This little quirk of global cultural trends is a reminder of just how deeply European imperialism, particularly of the British sort, shaped our world, and in ways that we normally wouldn’t think to consider as colonial artifacts.
Woah! Wait?! How did this happen?
Turns out that Halloween is originally a Celtic festival. The Irish love it (cue columns on refusing to drink Guinness on St Patricks Day because it symbolises The Troubles), along with the Scots and Welsh.
As Britains headed out to settle across the planet, they took the tradition of Halloween with them before Victorianism turned up and tried to stop those naughty pagan parties.
The Post doesn’t hold back in taking an almighty whack at 19th century British expansion and culture, saying:
Victorianism spread more than Halloween skepticism, of course. Social scientists who study Africa, the Middle East and South Asia often argue that these regions are today some of the worst societies in the world for women and for gays because 19th-century British colonial overlords ingrained their legal systems and social codes with those very Victorian ideas. And those have persisted.
Take that all you lefties who blame America for Middle East unrest. Your British overlords started it first.
So how did Australia end up so wary of Halloween, while Americans and Canadians embraced it? The Post’s explanation is that “the Victorian backlash” coincided with the Poms turning up in Australia, while the US had already tossed them out of their country and got on with being American.
The Post goes on explain the global spread of Halloween as part of a second wave that came with the spread of American culture and even US military bases before concluding that:
Even if the Americans are more to blame for Halloween’s spread to a lot of these countries, such as Russia or Chile, it still all goes back to Britain. When American children go out trick-or-treating, they’re following a tradition from their nations’ English heritage.
So there you go.
Next time you want to denounce Halloween, you really need to blame Queen Elizabeth II’s great-great grandmother for failing in her bid to kill off your own British heritage.