Searching for a homegrown Kiwi celebration

23:38, Nov 02 2012

Within a few days we will have had a ghoulish tradition and an explosive tradition running rampant through our neighbourhoods.

One is a pale imitation of a festival of the dead; the other celebrates a foiled plot to blow up Parliament by spending good money on devices that go up in smoke.

At the risk of being accused of pre-Christmas Bah Humbuggishness, the question has to be asked: Why?

The commercial monstrosity that is Halloween seems to be catching on in New Zealand, judging by the sweet-hunting posses of witches, ghosts, monsters and the odd superhero going door-to-door on Wednesday night.

You can make an argument that it encourages neighbourliness, though some of the realistic masks are not for the faint-hearted.

Naturally, the combination of dress-ups and loads of sweets is also a surefire winner with kids.


You can even argue that all our festivals are imported, and that while Halloween is now most strongly identified as American, it could take on a New Zealand flavour in time.

But why would you want it to? Everything about it feels as fake as plastic pumpkins and vampire teeth.

Many of the costumes seem half-hearted - barely deserving of a pineapple lump - and some of those wearing them look way too old to get away with it.

Instead of the magic anticipation of Santa on Christmas Eve, there is just an expectation of a sugar overload.

Guy Fawkes, at least, has the advantage of deeper roots in New Zealand, and the enduring fascination of fire.

Of course, the celebration of the failed gunpowder plot has caused merry hell and serious injuries, particularly in the days when you could buy skyrockets, Mighty Canons and strings of Double Happys that were dangerous in the wrong hands.

In recent years there has been a tightening up on the type of fireworks being sold, and law changes in 2007 reduced fireworks sales to four days and put the legal purchase age up to 18.

These changes have produced fewer fires and injuries, more large-scale public displays, and a feeling that the backyard celebration of Guy Fawkes is on the wane.

It's a shame for kids who may never know the simple joy of sparklers; but it won't be greatly missed by many, particularly pet owners.

Daylight saving has also not been a great fit with Guy Fawkes' November observance - by the time it is dark enough, the kids are out on their feet.

It raises the question of how we can establish our own traditions, outside of Christmas which has undergone its own Kiwi revolution.

Waitangi Day has promise, but like race relations it is still a work in progress and who knows when it will stop being overshadowed by those politics. The mid-year observance of Matariki, the Maori New Year, is slowly increasing in popularity but lacks definition.

Canterbury's Cup and Show Week, the Womad music festival in New Plymouth, Auckland's Anniversary Day regatta and Nelson's Masked Parade are examples of regions forging their own traditions.

Instead of grafting on overseas celebrations like Halloween, we should have our own homegrown Kiwi day.

It should be in summer, and have some sort of rallying point - and no, not the All Blacks winning the World Cup. Perhaps the day when, and if, New Zealand ever becomes a republic with a new flag would be the ticket.

The Nelson Mail