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Tricks and treats

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 2 November 2018

Today is 2 November, and for conservative Christians among us that means All Souls. For the rest, it is just day two after Halloween.

Halloween is a strange feast in our calendar. Nobody knows what is celebrated and why. But that, I would argue, makes it the perfect candidate for New Zealand’s next public holiday. We need more nonsensical feasts to guide us through the year.

As far as I can tell, Halloween’s sole purpose are two traditions, neither of which is ancient. The first tradition is to observe Halloween with trick-or-treating and anything pumpkin-related. The second is to object to observing Halloween, presumably because it lacks meaning.

Before anyone corrects me now, of course there is more to Halloween. Yes, it is ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ – the night before All Saints. Which makes it even more curious: As society is becoming more secular, a new pseudo-religious festival has been born.

But that is the key to understanding Halloween. Where there are fewer holy days, people are yearning even more for holidays. We need them not primarily because of their meaning but because they structure our lives. They also provide excuses to behave badly and eat unhealthy food.

Seen in this light, with its sweets and noisy behaviour, Halloween is the perfect way to introduce even children to the concept. Hence, the proposal to make it a public holiday.

Especially in New Zealand, with our mediocre number of just 10 public holidays per year, we would all benefit from having more time off. Our bizarre ‘Day after New Year’s Day’, some obscure regional anniversaries, and another holiday celebrating a distant monarch’s birthday in the wrong month are a good start. Let’s now properly fill our calendar.

New Zealand has a dearth of public holidays between early June (Queen’s Birthday) and late October (Labour Day). We could add the Chinese ghost festival Zhōngyuán Jié, which usually falls in late August. It could be our annual practice run for Halloween.

Toilet Paper Day (26 August) and International Strange Music Day (24 August) could also inspire great traditions of children behaving badly.

There is no limit to the occasions we could celebrate. Cambodia today has no fewer than 28 days off per year. The ancient Romans were on holiday half the year and still somehow built an Empire.

One final suggestion: I believe we need a day to celebrate satire. Let’s start with it today.

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