An Upside-Down Halloween

Once again I am surprised by the reaction to and perception of Halloween down here.  I am trying really hard to see it from the point of view of many Australians, which is quite difficult for me because it is my favorite holiday and I love celebrating it.  In my eyes, the greatness of the holiday is the fun and silliness and ease of it.  Anyone can get into it, regardless of faith, culture, beliefs, etc.  It’s a day where people can pick anything that sounds fun and dress up like it, from a politician to a vampire to a bag of jelly beans—the possibilities are endless.  And eat some candy.  Harmless good fun—what’s not to like? 

However, the decision of whether or not to celebrate it seems to be such a serious, life-changing, important one for people here.  That seems sad to me.  Just relax and enjoy being silly for a day, a day where we can all be kids.  It doesn’t affect how you feel about Christ, or commercialism/consumerism, or healthy eating.  It’s one day.  Just have fun! 

Based on my observations around here, it seems the kids want to celebrate it, once they learn about it, which is a no brainer.  What kid would not enjoy Halloween?  Many in my generation seem entirely torn about whether or not to celebrate a holiday that ‘has no point’, ‘isn’t Australian’, ‘isn’t Christian’, and ‘is all about consumerism.’   I feel that they’re certainly not being UN-Australian or UN-Christian by celebrating it; it’s not going to harm them or make them less of a person in any way.  And, that’s the point—there is not point other than being silly and creative and having a bit of fun and what’s so wrong with that in our serious, stressed out, busy world today? 

The older generation just seems to have no idea how to handle it at all.  When we took the kids trick-or-treating, we found everything from houses with the lights out, to houses that would package up a few pieces of candy and wrap them all up in a cute bag with a bow for each child, to houses that would hand out single gummy worms (snakes here, for obvious reasons), to houses that would give the first kid that came by a full bag of candy and expect that to be able to be passed out by that child to every other trick-or-treater in the neighborhood.  I find it quite odd.

One of the funniest things was that because all of the Christmas decorations and candy (lollies) are put out in September over here (and we’re worried about commercialism?!  Is that not the pot calling the kettle black?), the kids actually received candy canes at one house!  If that would have happened back home, I would have been shocked at the cheapskate handing out last year’s leftover Christmas candy!  But this was a fresh 2012 candy cane!

So instead of feeling sad for people missing out on such a wonderful opportunity, I try to see things from their points of view.  How would I feel if over the past few years, I was suddenly presented with a holiday that I did not understand and knew nothing about?  Would I be excited at a new opportunity or would I be suspicious and nervous?  Of course, every day I am getting on board with customs I previously knew nothing about and celebrating holidays all year now that previously meant nothing to me.  But I moved.  I left my homeland and comfort zone and became immersed in the necessity of doing things differently and embracing change (yes, I know, I don’t always embrace it, but I’m at least always giving it a small hug while trying my best!).  The change wasn’t just thrown at me in my own country. 

That said, I still don’t see the harm in it.  Buying a few Halloween treats will harm people no more than buying fun new toys or things for the house, or spring or Christmas merchandise.  It won’t make you any more or any less commercial or materialistic than you are now.  And it won’t make you any more ‘American’ than you were the day before, or are the day after, which is not at all.  It is celebrated in other countries as well.

So, that’s my final answer:  relax and enjoy!  Have a little fun!  Happy Halloween! 

As for our celebrations, our big carnival on Saturday turned out to be the one evening out of the past several weeks where it poured rain for hours.  It made us Americans feel a bit more at home—being freezing and wet on Halloween.  J   We all still had fun, but it was a shorter evening than we had intended and I have yet to try the fabled pancakes with ice cream.  On Wednesday, we trick-or-treated with a group of friends which was a lot of fun.  Over the weeks leading up to it, we enjoyed making pumpkin crafts and baked treats; we carved our pumpkins into happy silly faces and roasted the yummy seeds; we even drank orange milk one night and ate off paper jack-o-lantern plates.  All in all a fun holiday—still my favorite!  It makes it even more fun now to celebrate it through the eyes and minds of my children—I cherish these experiences they’re getting and the games and fun they come up with through it all. 

This was another week of entirely foreign experiences for me.  In addition to Halloween, we had orientation and an interview for Drew going into prep, Australian for kindergarten.  He will start full day, 5-day a week school at the end of January.  On Saturday, we got to visit the school, tour it, see the classrooms and all the play areas and meet the teachers.  Then on Tuesday we went back for a one on one interview with one of the teachers where we received a handbook and learned more about what to expect next year.  It is all so different!  The experience of becoming the parent of a school-aged child and needing to be somewhere 5 days a week at the same time again after almost 5 years is new enough to me.  It’s all compounded by the fact that not much of it is recognizable and it makes me wonder how I would feel if he started school in the U.S.  Has it all changed so much there or would there be things I’d remember that would make me feel more comfortable and nostalgic and excited?   Right now I’m just feeling more foreign and lost again.

Classrooms do look about the same.   I really like the school itself.  I was impressed by the amount of outdoor play areas, complete with a veggie garden and the biggest sand box (pit) I’ve ever seen.  I also like how it is all outdoors.  Yes, the classrooms are inside, but there are no indoor hallways; it’s all separate buildings and you are always outside when going from room to room.  It has such an open feel and it’s lovely. 

I was overwhelmed by the ‘Australian-ness’ of it all.  The classrooms were filled with photos of native animals, maps, plants, etc.  It hit me that the job of making sure the boys know they are American and feel an allegiance and identification with that part of them falls squarely on my shoulders.  At the interview, the teacher asked if there was anything culturally the school should know about Drew.  I told her that he speaks American English, which sounds funny, but I believe it’s important, because he really does call almost everything by a different name.  He is doing very well and learning the Australian words and saying them (much better than I am, which he often reminds me of), but he still says quite a few American terms out of habit and also has an accent.  She said that as time passes by, he’ll be fully integrated and there won’t be much of a difference at all between him and the other kids.  Ok, lady thanks for making me cry!  I know it’s a good thing, but still….

A couple other very noticeable differences to me:

-A few of Steve’s family members got very excited asking us about the dimensions for his ‘library bag’.  Huh?  His what?  Apparently, kids typically are given measurements and told to come to school with a homemade fabric bag to carry a library book home in.  They use it throughout the year to better protect the books.  Once I heard it described, I realized that he does currently use one of these at his preschool (kindy here), but I don’t remember them calling it that.  I of course bought it from the school, because I can barely sew on a button much less hand craft a bag.  No one at the new school has mentioned it to us so I am still not sure if this is a current tradition for school kids or not.

-The teacher referred often to a “Book List” and said we could go online to buy everything on it and it would all be delivered straight to the classroom.  Stupid me, I thought she was referring to a list of books he would need for school, textbooks, and I was surprised that they already have to buy them at this age.  Apparently ‘book lis’t is Australian for ‘school supply list’ and is his list of books, paper, glue, scissors, markers (called Texters here, or Textas, not quite sure which) that he will need.  Now, be honest, which description makes more sense?

-She also told us a few times that he’d need a scrapbook.  I pictured the kids making fancy little photo albums of their year in school and was surprised by that endeavor with children of this age.  Wrong again!  A scrapbook sounds like (I still haven’t seen one) a blank pad of drawing paper that the kids will use to paste their artwork into.

-Finally, and this was the kicker:  The teacher handed Drew a small item and said, “Here, do you need a rubber?  You can use it with your new pencil.”  Yikes!  Why are they handing out rubbers to 4-year-olds?!  What kind of school is this?!  We’re leaving now!  Oh, wait…it’s an eraser!  OOOHHHHHH, ok!  Not a condom—-phew!  That’s a stage of parenting I am REALLY not ready for yet! 

My last cultural difference of the week and it’s not related to school:  When I was grocery shopping, there was some issue with the baking soda (now bicarbonate soda, or bicarb for short) that I was trying to buy and the checker asked me to follow her “to the smoke shop.”  I was thoroughly confused and wondered why she was asking me to leave the store and go to a store for smokers, but I follow her anyway and she leads me to the customer service desk!  Haha!  Well, it is the place in the grocery store where cigarettes are sold from, right?  This country is too darn funny!  But yet so serious about Halloween…..hmmmmm……

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