How to do an Australian Halloween
Halloween in Australia hasn’t really been much of a ‘thing’. However, our kids are increasingly aware of it with the barrage of Halloween costumes, activities and paraphernalia in supermarkets and on television, so now ‘Australian Halloween’ seems to be a thing, despite it being in Springtime.
Do you ignore it? I managed to, for a number of years. We’ve always had some emergency Halloween lollies at home just in case we had trick or treaters (except for that one year when I worked late and my husband was unprepared and handed out cash instead of lollies to trick or treaters. They were massively disappointed the following year when I offered a tub of Minties.)
With my own kids getting old enough to now get a grasp on Halloween and be able to sustain prolonged begging for some form of celebration, I’ve succumbed to Halloween. So: this is my guide of a general ‘what-to-do-and-what-not-to-do’, based on my experience of Aussie Halloween with kids.
Firstly: decide if you want to go trick or treating. We did it for the first time last year, as the kids hit school age, along with some of the neighbour’s kids. Gauge your neighbourhood. Until last year, we did a simple treasure hunt in the front yard with the neighbour’s kids and a Halloween themed party food table, so the kids got to wear a costume and feel like they were at a party. This was great because we got to limit the acquired sugar on the day.
Secondly: remember that Halloween is 31st October, so it could be any day of the week. If it’s on the weekend: awesome. This year, for example, it’s on a Monday . . . in Melbourne, it’s actually Melbourne Cup Eve. Decide what’s a realistic Halloween activity/event after school or whilst you’re away for the weekend.
Now, to the nitty gritty:
Whether you plan on door knocking or just doing something at home to keep the kids entertained, costumes are the thing that makes it feel like a party. ‘Dressing up’ is probably my kids’ favourite thing to do. They’re actually in pirate costumes as I write this.
You can go the home-made costume route or buy one. If you are going to buy, decide early, as most places, including Spotlight, seem to sell out of all of the good, reasonably priced stuff early on. Try to get something your child is likely to wear again to a birthday party or Book Week dress up day at school. We’ve had a theme each year – last year was Star Wars and we’re doing ‘Fairy Tales’ this year . . . mainly because that was a recent school theme, so we already have the costumes.
I’ve usually gone down the home-made route, but I’m no Tonia Toddman. Pinterest is full of ‘no sew’ costumes or at least basic patterns for so many things. My daughter’s Princess Leia costume was a white sheet doubled over, cut out with a bit of elastic sewn in. I cut out a silver belt and did her hair in the big hair buns and she was a convincing Leia.
Here they are from two years ago (before they wanted to go all zombies and day of the dead):
If you’re a gun sewer or have a bucket load of cash, by all means, go all out. However for most people, my advice is to keep the costumes very literal and obvious. There’s nothing worse for kids than to arrive at a party or knock on a door to have everyone ask who they’re supposed to be. They want to be immediately recognised as ‘a witch’ or ‘a dragon’, etc.
Trick or Treating
How we did it
Some places in Australia do go all out with this, some don’t. If you want to go trick or treating but aren’t sure how your neighbourhood will receive you, try doing what we did last year. We letter-boxed everyone in our surrounding streets with a letter explaining:
- When we were planning to go trick or treating (day, time)
- Ages and number of kids.
- Our contact number.
- Our request: we included a purple ribbon and asked them to tie it on their fence/letterbox if they were happy for us to door knock.
We then only knocked where there was a purple ribbon, so we didn’t annoy anyone and the kids got a great welcome. This is what we expected to receive after trick or treating:
This is what we received, per child (and this was after we let them eat their allocated amount of sugar and preservatives):
How it panned out
We were overwhelmed by the response. Not just in terms of lollies; so many neighbours also dressed up and decorated their front yards for the kids; some even set up specific instructions and little games for them to get to the front door. It was actually so much better than I was expecting. We also got to know some people in the surrounding streets who we’d never before met.
Of course, we removed about 75% of the lolly stash and rationed it out for the next few months.
And one other tip: if your child has allergies, make sure you check everything in their bag. My son has a peanut allergy and everyone over the age of 60 gave him a Snickers bar.
When the kids are older, they’ll want to go at night time. While our kids are still young, we are taking them when it’s still daylight, so they’re not too tired to enjoy the whole thing. You also get to properly meet people in daylight and it’s not so spooky for any kids who might be a bit freaked out by the whole Halloween thing.
This might sound obvious, but: if the kids are wearing a new costume, make sure they can actually walk in it and that it’s not too hot/cold for the day. We actually had a Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper having to be carried around the streets last year because of a) too tight shoes and b) it got really warm and a polyester onesie with helmet was crazy hot.
If you want to actually have an occasion where the grown ups can chat and catch up, some craft activities are a good thing to have on hand to keep the kids occupied. Or even as a warm-up activity, to get the kids in the Halloween swing of things. Our kids are young, so we’ve done some fairly basic craft activities:
Spiders from pom poms, pipe cleaners and googly eyes
Painted and decorated mini pumpkins
Making ghosts by cutting out ghost shapes from card and gluing on cotton balls and black eyes/mouths
Decorating spooky cupcakes
Icy pole stick spider webs (weave some white wool around them)
Decorated jars to create candle lanterns
Just search for Halloween crafts online and you’ll be there for hours . . .
We’ve gotten together with the neighbours the last few years and had a little party table of food and drink for the kids, even if they’re not trick or treating – it feels like more of a party for them. Again, so much online, but the best bang for our buck has been:
- Strawberries dipped in white chocolate with little ghost faces drawn on with writing icing. Actually, you can also do this with frozen bananas or marshmallows, too.
- Frog-in-a-pond variations: set a cup of green jelly, sliding in a chocolate frog when it’s starting to firm up, so it can hold the frog. There’s a suitably revolting array of Halloween lollies, such us lolly eyeballs and fingers that you could use in place of the frog.
- Mummified sausages: wrap frankfurts in thin strips of pastry and bake.
- Pumpkin anything . . . although the whole pumpkin thing is because they’re in season in the Northern Hemisphere, but I’ve tried that line of discussion with a 6 year old and that’s half an hour of my life I’m never getting back.
- Devilled eggs. If you have the patience, make little spiders from black olives, to sit on top of each egg.
- Mini pizzas: use the ingredients to make ghoulish faces from the toppings.
- Iced biscuits: just buy a few Halloween shaped cutters (bats, ghosts, witches hats).
- There are many more gruesome options; decide if it’s likely to terrify or excite your kids.
We removed and rationed out a judicious amount of lolly loot. I think we still had some at Christmas time to share with cousins. The benefit of doing something like a backyard treasure hunt instead of trick or treating is that you can control this, along with the resulting sugar crash.
Send around a little thank you note to the people who participated. It’s a small thing, but good neighbourly relations are invaluable.
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