Ah, spring. That magical time of year when the clocks change, the leaves return, and the cranks come out to complain about Halloween. Close readers of the broadsheet letters pages and ABC opinion sites may have noticed a bumper crop of killjoys this year, unable to abide the annual spectacle of neighbourhood children dressed as fairies and superheroes going door to door, watchful parents in tow, looking for lollies on Halloween. The type was epitomised by RMIT professor and ‘futurist’ Stephen Alomes, who complained that the day is ‘an artificially created festival which comes to us firstly through the Trojan Horse of American TV series and films’ and urged ‘a reaction against Americanisation … Australians divide into those who are critical of Halloween and those who embrace and celebrate it’. Yawn.
To be fair, Halloween has its flaws: teaching kids to extort unearned treats from authority figures is a great way to raise future Greens voters or union officials. Instead, if Australians are to embrace an American holiday, it should be Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving would transplant far better to Australia than Halloween. Even Halloween’s backers must admit that all that oogly-boogly Day of the Dead stuff is a hard sell in a country as relentlessly secular as Australia. Utterly ecumenical Thanksgiving, on the other hand, would fit in nicely. The idea is no more complicated than the name implies: be grateful for what you have. And all that’s required is to front up for a meal.
Plus, it falls at the end of November. A big problem with Christmas in Australia is that by 25 December, it’s too damn hot and after presents the options are limited: stay inside, crank up the aircon and go the traditional roast, or do a Christmas lunch in the sun where everyone gets uncomfortable, sun-struck and drunk too fast. As one who believes that, at heart, God has a great and vicious sense of humour, the stress of Christmas shopping has surely been arranged as our self-inflicted punishment for bringing the money-changers into the temple and commercialising His son’s birthday.
But one need not spend a lot of money to enjoy Thanksgiving. Instead, all that is required is someone able to host a big meal: if needs be, or just for fun, everyone can bring a dish to cut costs. While in North America, oven-roasted turkey is the traditional main course, this doesn’t necessarily translate to Australia, where it’s getting past the time of year when anyone wants to spend much time in the kitchen. But there is an alternative: for many of the past several years I have hosted an annual Thanksgiving party in Sydney, and instead of roasting birds, deep-fry them: with a little investment in the right equipment, including a giant pot and a Chinese propane ring that goes like the afterburner on a Joint Strike Fighter, turkeys can be cooked for a crowd in rapid succession, about 50 minutes a pop. The best bit is that they stay moist (the oven-roasted turkey’s traditional downfall), and they can’t be that bad for you because, hey, most of the oil stays in the frying pot, right?
If all this is not enough to convince Australians, or at least Spectator Australia readers, to embrace Thanksgiving, then just think of the reaction of the Professor Alomes of the world. An entire November of outraged humanities professors could make great entertainment.
James Morrow blogs about food, culture, and politics at prickwithafork.wordpress.com.