Maybe we’re reading too much spooky stuff into why Halloween has taken off in Australia.
Maybe we’re reading too much cultural appropriation into why Australia has taken on a USA and UK festival/memorial.
Maybe the sharp uptake of Halloween-esque celebrations (and let’s admit it’s a ghostly shadow of its US and UK counterparts) is simply a last gasp attempt by a rootless culture to anchor itself in something that has historical and spiritual foundations. Anything to have something discernibly “other” to hold on to.
A case perhaps of grasping on to the style without having the substance. You know, a bit like a modern cookie cutter suburban development with an IGA, a coffee shop and a brand spanking new school, which the billboard breathlessly announces as a “a village”.
But any resemblance to an actual village; the layers of family, the layers of history, the quirks and lurks and village weirdos, the tree that’s grown up with the kids, all of that is lacking. It’s as much a facade as the billboard is. A wistful wish rather than a reality.
I mean it’s the same with Christmas, Easter, ANZAC Day, Australia Day. The style is all there with these celebrations, in fact it’s even been cranked up. But the substance? That’s lacking or its been seconded to other agendas; the cult of family; the need for a good time.
Perhaps these commemorations are the stepping stones a God-forsaking culture requires in order to make sense of a year. Maybe these are the liturgies our calendars need to mask the fact that without them we’d be left with an endless (pagan) cycle governed by shopping and entertainment.
Without them we’d be a bunch of disappointed Peggy Lee’s with her deflated “Is that all there is?”, as Charles Taylor so memorably describes it in A Secular Age.
The need is there for ritual, for meaning, for substance, for something. And the likes of Halloween give an impression of that, a past to look back on, and an open universe to look up to.
Oh, and iCal has just reminded me that it is Melbourne Cup day tomorrow. The most famous racehorse of them all, Phar Lap, is commemorated for having a big heart. In fact there’s a growing Phar Lap appreciation club in Australia that borders on the mystical. Here’s how Museum Victoria’s website remembers Phar Lap:
He triumphed during the Great Depression of the early 1930s, when a hero was most needed by the people of Australia.
He conquered the local racing scene—36 wins from his last 41 starts—and then won North America’s richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap, in 1932.
A fortnight later he went to the great equine heaven in the skies, struck down by a mystery illness that many suspected was the work of gangsters.
A hero of the people, born in a stable, struck down by evil men, now residing in the skies. Maybe, just maybe, Phar Lap will come back on Melbourne Cup day, an equine Parousia to give us back our meaning again.