For some years, I’ve considered the overwhelming adoption of Halloween in Australia to be a highly offensive invasion of American culture. But the last couple of months has given me an important life lesson in perspective:
I. Had. No. Idea.
For my North American readers, Australian does a token nod to Halloween. Yes, there’s always a house or two on the block that puts out a few scary decorations. And sure, in quiet suburbia we might get a couple of kids with bunny ears knocking on the door, awkwardly hopeful that someone else on the street has remembered that it’s October 31st. I once had five kids from next door come over – one of them was wearing a batman cape, but the others were just wearing their regular school uniform – and all I had for them were some muesli bars that I was planning to eat for morning tea for the rest of the week (I got the feeling their mum/s had gotten fed up with them and tried the old, “It’s Halloween! Go outside and play!”).
So I was completely naive to the reality of North America Halloween, because Australian celebrations just aren’t in the same league. But I get it now. I see my error. I now understand that whatever I had previously considered “Halloween”, was a spooky flicker in the dark by comparison.
Here, this strange celebration rivals Easter for its observance, commercialism, festivity and general joyousness. Think specialty foods, spooky symbolism and household decorations, including pop-up Halloween stores; costume competitions, Halloween parties and scary movie marathons; and seasonal activities like pumpkin carving and haunted houses (the lines were literally hours long).
And I have to admit – I had a really, really great time. So here’s a run down of the fun and games of Halloween – Sask-style.
The Local Décor
Before I go on, let me take a moment to say that it is a glorious November day here. The Museo cinnamon rolls are particularly soft and gooey. The infamous Saskatoon sunshine has come out after several weeks of overcast skies and drizzle, there is some last-minute Fall zest in the air and it’s a pretty perfect Saturday. I’m just noting that down in case I forget the beauty of this place in the dread of winter, which is inescapable if not imminent. Aah, this too shall pass.
Like Christmas decorations, the degree to which one Halloweens-up one’s house seems to be largely personal. Home decorations varied from a few simple Jack-o-lanterns…
…to full-on, let-out-your-inner-crazy, don’t-walk-too-close-after-dark:
Even the local supermarket got into it, although in a much more friendly manner:
Skulls Slow Roll – GOyxe
If I’m going to tell the story chronologically, then I should start with the #GOyxe Skulls slow roll. GO is a strictly social bike ride – a bike ride for everyone and a way to normalise cycling around Saskatoon.
The October Slow Roll was, of course, Halloween-themed, with simple rules: paint your face like a skull, and come out after dark for a chilly-yet-invigorating pedal through the streets. So we did 🙂
Thanks Dorota for supplying the paint and inspiration for our scary faces (and for encouraging me to go)! I had tonnes of fun (although I’m determined to learn to ride with no hands so that next year I can keep my fingers in my ~warm~ pockets).
Number 2 in this Sask-Halloween-induction-series – I learned to carve a pumpkin! Special thanks to Jamille and her two gorgeous daughters for this super-fun evening.
Now, I’d always imagined that pumpkin carving is done to a huge, tough-skinned Queensland Blue, with a big chef’s knife, and with great risk of personal injury. I was horrified at the idea that children do it regularly in the lead up to Halloween every year. And I was pretty certain that I couldn’t do it.
I was also mildly uncomfortable with the food waste that I assumed went along with hollowing out a big vegetable and then letting it rot on your front step.
Surprise! Wrong again.
[Just briefly, to address that second point – these are not good eating pumpkins. They are a custom variety of pumpkin, bred to have a nice soft skin, a volume made up of mostly seeds and stringy guts, and a flesh that is definitely not tasty (the seeds were pretty delicious, though – after being roasted off and dusted in spices. Nice winter-long food supply, if you’re stuck in the snowy darkness for 6 months). Now OK, I concede that that these are grown on land that could probably be used to grow other, edible varieties of pumpkin, and that that could be considered a bit wasteful – but in the context of the chocolate and sweets, and plastic decorations, and general over-consumption of the holiday season, I’m going to call it a drop in the ocean. And I’ll just leave that Pandora’s box ajar for another day.]
But back to the actual carving. We met Jamille at her place with our enormous 8-kilo pumpkin (her girls were sensibly prepared with small, graceful, manageable alternatives). I’ll note briefly that it was originally my pumpkin, and that Bren was decidedly not interested in making one. See the photos below and make your own conclusions.
It turns out that, armed with the right tools, basic pumpkin carving is super easy! (I say “basic”, because like any artistry, there’s carving and then there’s carving. Total respect to those that do it on a whole other plane).
We cut off the “lid”, emptied out the guts (saving the pepitas to make into deliciousness later), and marked out our pattern. Yes, sorry to disappoint – we cheated and used a stencil.
Then we cut it out! I expected this to be the tricky part, but these funny little child-proof saws are super functional. Success!!
Bren and Jamille were keen on a scary movie to round out the evening, but I’ve never really been OK with being spooked… So I talked them into watching The Lobster. Not so much scary as just…weird. I mean, I liked it, but I’m pretty certain the other two thought it was absurdist nonsense. Which it was, but… Anyway, sorry Jamille. You can pick next time.
Thanks for helping us make such an excellent Jack-o-Lantern!
Oh! And for decorating Brendan’s desk…
This brings us to actual all-hallows-eve – October 31st. I always thought those episodes from The Office were just a bit of a laugh. But here’s the thing – people actually got right into dressing up. Like, all day. I passed people walking to work dressed as witches, students walking around campus with bunny ears (less risque than in Hollywood films – #youknowyoureincanadawhen you really need to have layers on under your sexy-kitten outfit).
Most importantly, my building had a costume contest! Prizes for best individual costume and best team costume.
Now, you can’t say “Team” to the SDB group and not expect them to pull out all the stops. So we had a quick brainstorm, and we settled on a theme – the Brassicaceae. It met all of our requirements – food security? Check. Sciencey? Check. Broad enough to have costume variety for everyone in the office? Check check – although some of the team members considered it a little too “academic”:
“Way to nerd up Halloween.” ~ Rick.
I choose to take that as a compliment :).
I picked the humble cauliflower. Armed with a glue gun, white yarn, and a cheap white t-shirt from Walmart, I whipped this guy up:
(Thanks Karen for supervising the making of my leaf-skirt!)
The others were just as awesome:
And this was the final result! Credit to my Family members (haha… taxonomy pun) – Marco as a caped broccoli superhero; Angie as glittery kale (secret hipster); my interpretation of cauliflower; Dorota bursting (haha) with Brussels sprouts; and Meg, the prettiest Canola I’ve ever seen. You guys are the best.
Although we lost a few members in the lead up (our enthusiasm may have been a little overwhelming), we won the team costume prize! $30 pizza voucher, courtesy of the social club. Congrats guys!!
Trick or treating
Finally, we come to the crux of the whole matter – the Halloween Trick or Treat.
We (like everyone else in Nutana, apparently) made a last minute dash to Extra Foods for “candy” to hand out (well Bren did, actually – bless him), I repeated my skull-face painting, we lit our pumpkin (our crow had started to sag a little, so I propped him back up with a couple of toothpicks), and I put a few tea candles out to light a path around to our door, since it’s not the main door of the house (remember, basement). Bren hid out in the kitchen making dinner, Morgan sat fascinatedly watching the hundreds of people that wandered up and down the street, and I prepared whatever sentences I could to speak with kids that might turn up. (How do you even talk to children??!)
Unfortunately, for us, it turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. Our street (as do most streets in the city) has a no-light, no-knock policy, so you can opt-out of your candy distribution obligations by leaving your front light off and pretending you’re not home…
This posed a problem for us, as our front light is only a sensor light! So if I there were already groups at the door, more groups would come up – but most of the night the doorway sat cold and dark. Now I have a ridiculous stash of lollipops that I don’t want (I’m torn between wishing Bren had bought something more delicious, and being thankful that he didn’t) – at least they will keep til next year! And I’ll add “outside light” to my checklist for next Halloween.
And that was that! Less than two weeks later and most of the Halloween decorations have been replaced with Christmas lights (much more my kind of merry), sagging pumpkins have been recycled or repurposed (or just chucked in the compost, in our case), and I’ve hidden my cauliflower costume away for another day. I’ll recommend “livestock” as our team-theme for next year – I think she’d make a good sheep!
Happy holidays 🙂