Not an everyday ritual, but an annual one

I recently came across a shrewd article from Forbes contributor and marketer Michael R. Solomon that explores the meaning of Halloween as an event that provides antagonistic contrast to symbols we associate with other holidays. It very nicely shows how (as I often say) 'rituals create meaning.' The insight for me: the meaning of Halloween comes in part from its contrast to Thanksgiving. From this you would predict that the meaning of the Halloween ritual in countries like Australia and the UK that don't celebrate Thanksgiving is (obviously) different from its meaning in countries that do.

I have been watching the evolution of Halloween in both Australia and the UK (where I grew up). I have noticed that Halloween is becoming more popular in both countries, but it is also contentious. Some people become angry at what they call the  'commercialisation' of Halloween, which is a bit odd really since neither country experienced much on a non-commercial version. What I think people are saying is that Halloween doesn't 'feel right' to them as a ritual because there is no tradition. There are some possible reasons for this:

  • Nostalgia is a key reason for the popularity of other popular calendar rituals like Christmas and Easter. We know from our own research into Christmas that many people try to recreate the Christmas of their own childhood, and give that as a gift to their own children. Australians can't feel nostalgia for Halloween because it was not part of their childhood. 
  • Christmas, Easter and other ritual days like Valentine's Day involve an exchange of gifts. Halloween doesn't.
  • Preparing and sharing food are central to other ritual occasions but not Halloween. Buying lollies at Coles or Woolworths doesn't quite cut it.
  • There also seems to be a lot of freedom in how Halloween is interpreted, compared to other traditional holidays.
  • 'Grooming the home' is a major part of preparing for Christmas and is becoming more popular at Easter here. We have written about that here:

But of course, Halloween shares many features with Christmas and Easter - this is fun time for children, when children can be the focus of attention.  Also sweet food. What is wrong with that?  

'Rituals are, after all, the linchpin of a moored life. They are the necessary reassurance in the face of life’s vagaries. They are the predictable, soothing stakes in our daily lives that inject meaning. That they are emblematic of all cultures and seem to last through all types of modernizations is very telling.'  Lauren Rieff. 

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