human behavior

A Sydney Halloween

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Foreign Impressions, Sydney, The Expatriate Life by humanb on October 28, 2010

I’ve always had a special fondness for Halloween – in part because the holiday occurs in October, the month I was born. For the egocentric child in me (now gone), I looked on the month of October with great excitement because my birthday was coming. And for the sugar-obsessed child in me (who lives on within my aging heart), Halloween was a thrilling finale to the month.

Like many American kids, I celebrated the holiday with relish: hanging paper scarecrows in the windows, carving pumpkins, roasting pumpkin seeds, watching Halloween specials on TV, and of course, roaming free and wild through the suburban streets on the hunt for candy from strangers. Only after every neighborhood door was rapped did I rush home to count, categorize and trade my candy with my sister.

For all of its wonders, conveniences and pleasures, Australia is grossly deficient when it comes to celebrating holidays. And Halloween, sadly, is largely ignored. Granted, there are sporadic half-hearted efforts to acknowledge a holiday considered quintessentially American. A handful of parents in a few neighborhoods may over-organize and heavily chaperone some trick-or-treating in the very early evening, and you may find a costume party or two in the city. But no one really goes ALL OUT.

At least the supermarkets are trying to make a buck by selling a few pumpkins. And thanks to their profit-focus, I’m able to have something of a celebration here.

So every year I buy a pumpkin for about $25, carve it into your standard face, sit it in my apartment window with a candle, and roast its seeds to salty perfection. As much as I would love to gaze on its menacing face, I turn it outward in the hopes that I might spark the Halloween fever in my neighbors. And as much as I love the taste and crunch of those seeds, I share them with my classmates to inspire an appreciation for pumpkins and their possibilities.

This year was no different, for the most part.

I bought and carved my pumpkin on the 24th and roasted its seeds straight away. I’ve been sharing the seeds with junior doctors and med students at the hospital, who like the med students of previous years, respond with surprised pleasure to their salty goodness.

I even showed off pictures of my pumpkin all aglow.

It’s become a ritual for me, lighting the candle when the sun goes down and turning him to face my neighbors. I’ve been counting down the days until Halloween – for what purpose, I’m not quite sure. After all, there will be no costume parties to attend and no trick-or-treating for someone so old as me. Perhaps I can catch a Simpsons Halloween episode on TV…

Today is the 27th: Day 4 for my pumpkin. For some reason, I thought to light it early before the sun went down. So I proceeded to lift off its top and found this…


After my outburst of profanity, I just couldn’t – stop – looking. It was the most terrifying thing I’d seen in some time, and I’ve spent the last five years in hospitals.

Seriously, that is the scariest looking mold I’ve ever seen. It’s like a fuzzy monster…

And there’s two of them.

Too terrified to touch them, I took to spraying them with bathroom Instant Mold Remover – perhaps not the brightest idea I’ve ever had – but it instantly wilted the frightening fuzz into tufts of wet grey hair. They looked like witches’ heads.

Taking a paper towel to them to wipe them away, I was disgusted to find that there was almost no pumpkin meat behind them. The flesh-eaters were quick in their work.

After 3 decades of Halloween I should have known better. I should have realized that a fresh vegetable couldn’t last a week being heated from the inside by a candle while sitting in a humid apartment in Australia, when it doesn’t last much longer than that on a cold front porch in the northern hemisphere.

I must have carved it too soon this year.

The house now carries the distinct and disturbing smell of rotting pumpkin meat, but I just don’t have the heart to take my sick friend to the trash just yet.

I have 4 more days until Halloween, after all.

And anyway, it’s kind of frightening wondering what that pumpkin will produce when I wake up tomorrow. It’s a horror now.


But it’s also sad. I’m trying to hold on to my American childhood here.

So I was as giddy as a trick-or-treater when my Aussie husband came home and threw a bag in my lap.

Candy corn!

Such sweet consolation.

UPDATE: Today is Day 5 for my pumpkin. This morning I was relieved to find him free of mental health problems after his surgery, but I still came home from work today sick with worry that the witches’ heads had resurrected.

They had. With a vengeance.

I haven’t the heart to show those pictures. They’re less gruesome, but more depressing.

But they’re not nearly as sad as the trip to the garbage I just took with my pumpkin in a cheap plastic bag.

It’s the 28th of October.

I was so close.

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3 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on October 28, 2010 at 10:16 am

    One year I had a pumpkin so long that when I tried to pick it up to throw it away and it melted and slid right out of my hands. (This was long after the hairy mold.)

    If you really want to get into the spirit – try Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I had it on for my granddaughters this morning and they were really fascinated. Then off to the bus stop where I horrified them more by attempting to perform the Thriller Dance as the bus was approaching . . . “Mom Mom, don’t embarrass us.” They are 7 and 5 years old.

    Happy Halloween.

  2. roomstogrow said, on October 18, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Thank God for the abundance of Made in China shops around Sydney! I can find all my favourite Halloween toys 🙂 Haven’t spotted the candy corn yet though. Anways, my bro is having a good old fashioned Halloween party, so I think my homesick blues will have to take a hike. Totally not complaining that it’s Spring time here!

    • humanb said, on October 18, 2011 at 6:33 am

      I envy you the old fashioned Halloween party! I still get my candy corn from home (and my marshmallows). Australians haven’t yet been turned on to the joy of artificial flavoring and corn syrup!

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