Living in the Southern Hemisphere while being Extremely Online is always a bit of an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Of late, I’ve found that the most dissonant time of year is October.
When I was a kid, we didn’t celebrate Halloween at all in Australia. The way TV shows were scheduled, often aired here at some interval after their US premiere, I was also used to seasonal episodes happening at completely random times. Starbucks didn’t exist; the pumpkin spice latte had not made an impression and I wouldn’t have known what pumpkin spice was anyway. I don’t think I ever did anything Halloween-related until I was a baby goth and the clubs I went to would do a theme night.
These days, Australian Starbucks serves PSLs in October just as the weather is warming up. The supermarkets are full of orange-wrapped candy, and the discount chains stock children’s costumes.
A few years ago, a hopeful-looking kid in some kind of princess garb came up my front path, between the beds of sprouting bulbs and new green leaves, in search of treats. I answered the door empty-handed and honestly rather bewildered. Thankfully, whatever Facebook groups parents of small children belong to seem to have disseminated the “only knock at houses with decorations” rule in subsequent years.
What celebrations do we have to mark the coming of spring? In Victoria, we have the Friday before the AFL (Australian Rules football) grand final as a public holiday, sometime in late September; it was only introduced just before the pandemic so I’m not sure that people — non-football fans, at any rate — have yet developed rites and rituals for what one does on that weekend.
Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival, and especially the Melbourne Cup, gives most of us a four-day weekend (yes, for a horse race; yes, horse racing is cruel and inhumane) at the very height of spring. We stand atop and gaze with trepidation down the steep slope into the silly season. In Ballarat, it coincides with the official last frost date, so most people I know use it to get their tomatoes in.
The Royal Melbourne Show (an agricultural fair, in US parlance) happens in September; Ballarat’s happens in November, the dates offset by just about the climatic difference in the coming of spring in the plains and the hills. Either show is a great place to pet lambs and see prize roosters, be thrown into the air (and hopefully brought safely down again) on a fairground ride, or admire the competitive crochet and jam-making. To be honest, I haven’t been in ages (quite apart from the pandemic) as these days I get most of those itches scratched throughout the year.
Though not the fairground rides, to be fair, unless you count cycling in traffic.
Here’s the thing. When October comes and small children are seen wandering the neighbourhood trick-or-treating, I feel the distinct urge to decorate my house with fluffy chicks and garlands of blossom, give them eggs dyed with onion skin and beets, and lecture them about seasonality and new life. I don’t, of course, because I’m not a monster and I’m not going to ruin their fun. But I think it every year.
But what if I said, “Come back in April and I’ll show you something spooky.” Then, with daylight savings over, and dusk falling, they could kick their way through drifts of fallen leaves, to my front porch decorated with candles and pumpkins just picked from their wilting, mildewed vines. I’d decorate my front yard with (fake) poisonous mushrooms, the famous agaric spotted red and white, others creeping slimily over mossy logs. Glowing eyes would appear from beneath the dying tangle of the summer’s plants. A tattered, decaying scarecrow might complete the scene.
That’s when I want to dress as a hedge-witch and give children toffee-apples full of urban-legendary razor blades. Of course, all I can get in the shops in April are Easter eggs.
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