Operation Orange Balloons: tips for celebrating Halloween in non-American countries

October 24 | Guest post by Jass
Photo by hyekab25, used under Creative Commons license.
Halloween is a North American holiday that very few people in Australia see any reason to celebrate — right up until you have kids. Once you have kids, Halloween is an excuse to dress up and go for a walk. And so we need a way to lessen the two main issues with Halloween in Australia, which are these:

1. That very few people bother with celebrating, so the kids that do go wandering from house to house feel rather alone and embarrassed to be doing so; and

2. That very few people bother with it, so the people who answer the door to these occasional kids end up having nothing in the house to offer and feel awkward.

So enter Operation: Orange Balloons.

The plan goes like this: I would like to encourage children of the area to come "Trick or Treating" around the neighbourhood (minus the tricks, thank you), but only to houses that have orange balloons showing. For the past five years, (and two house moves), I have been letter-boxing the streets around my neighbourhood with a variation of this post as an explanation. I buy a bunch of orange balloons and include one with each letter.

The main points I include are:

  • Along with this letter is an orange balloon.
  • If you want to see the cute costumes, and maybe send your own kids out as part of the celebration, blow up the balloons and hang them up outside.
  • If you would prefer not to have anything to do with it, just throw the balloons away and ignore the whole mess.
  • Kids who want to go begging for sugar must do so only at houses with balloons; doing so at any other house is a definite no-no.
  • If you run out of lollies, you can always take your balloons down.
  • I name all the streets I am letter-boxing and include a quick Google map of those streets.
  • I encourage people to give it a try!

From the time I have started this, I have noticed about one in five houses will hang a balloon out on the night (note: the balloons serve a similar purpose as the Jack-O-Lantern in North America). I start letter-boxing on the first weekend in October and take it in stages, trying to end it by the middle of October, so people have time to plan and purchase what they need. It's a great activity to do with the kids, they get a lot of enjoyment out of posting things into people's letterboxes.

Last year, a friend of mine said that his house (in the south of our city) was letterboxed, so I know other people have start doing it as well. So, if you don't have Halloween where you are, this might be a way for you to start. You can start small, I did only three or four streets the first time round. I'm up to 250 houses this year, but I think that's going to be my limit… maybe.

  1. This is a good idea in lieu of jack-o-lanterns. When I lived in Japan we would have parties for the kids and do "trick or treating" at stations at the party. Not nearly as fun as going house to house but the kids enjoyed it.

    1 agrees
  2. That is a really neat idea and a great way to share the Halloween tradition with people who aren't familiar with it! One word of warning: some people have severe latex allergies. I know if I opened an envelope that had a balloon in it, even if I didn't actually touch it, I would have a reaction. This may not even be a problem in your neighborhood, especially if you know the people you are giving them to, but just thought I'd throw it out for consideration.

    3 agree
    • Huh. Thanks for that, I wasn't aware. I've noticed some people have put out their own balloons over the years rather than using the ones I bought.

      Will have to think about this more.

      • Perhaps write on the outside of the envelope "contains a latex balloon" would temporarily solve the problem.

  3. Isn't it easier just to ask people to turn on their porch lights if they want trick-or-treaters? That's what we do here.

    • I'm not sure a porch light would be very effective for us at this time of year. It might work for the states that don't do daylight saving time, but for those that do, it's still daytime when we'd be taking young kids out. I also think a balloon is more definitive…you can't accidentally leave it out there. I think if you're going to the effort of buying lollies for the kids, blowing up a balloon isn't much effort. But maybe I just like balloons.

      12 agree
    • In Australia, we're in Spring. Even when my now 13 year old heads out, it's still daylight. I'm not sure an outside light would be noticed. The balloon tends to be tied to a letterbox, which is a lot more noticeable from afar (I've noticed the kids get a 'first person to find the next balloon wins' thing going when we go out walking on the day).

      4 agree
  4. I do think your way is more spirited and fun, but I wonder if you will limit your participation because it's more than someone wants to do.

    • I don't think it would limit participation- if someone is willing to answer the door to kids, they would probably put a balloon up. Most people just ignore the knocks.

      4 agree
    • Yeh, that was my worry too. Which was why I put the orange balloon in with the letter – to lessen the amount of work someone would have to do…

      Over the years, people seem to be happy to put a balloon up. Some houses go all out and decorate the front yard, but most just have a balloon tied to the letterbox.

      1 agrees
    • I doubt it. If someone has gone to the effort of buying enough lollies and is willing to answer the door several times over the course of the evening, putting out a balloon that someone else has provided for you isn't a stretch.

  5. Only Halloween isn't a North American holiday, it's a British holiday that was brought to the US in 19th century by immigrants. #justsayin

    6 agree
    • I did not know that πŸ™‚

      I've always found it odd here in Australia, we celebrate an Autumn thing in Spring and a Winter festival in Summer. Some people are trying a 'Christmas in July' thing to try and move things to the proper season, but it hasn't really caught on.

      1 agrees
      • Well I think the purpose of Christmas in July is to add a new celebration, not to replace the orginal Christmas. To me, Christmas and winter don't go together- but I'm all for enjoying mulled wine mid year and calling it Christmas in July!

        1 agrees
        • Yeh, I think you have hit the nail on the head. I'm all for a mulled wine / roast around the fire celebration in mid winter. Calling it Christmas sits odd with me.

      • A bunch of my pagan friends have a midwinter celebration every year, including an anonymous present swap. We stay up all night playing games and then go to sleep after greeting the sun. I haven't been in a couple of years and I miss it so bad. I'm lucky to have a bunch of campy costumey friends who love Halloween, but this year I will be on an international flight and will miss it entirely! πŸ™

      • I thought that was an excuse for roast and pudding without the A/C running full bore!

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    • Halloween as it's celebrated in mainstream society now is mostly American – I don't think 19th century immigrants went trick or treating.

      6 agree
      • Yes, there's no trick-or-treating in the UK (or nearly none – some teenagers occasionally do it now). I remember being a little kid in America, and there were loads of people on the street in the evenings, and almost all the houses were decorated – I don't think that happens anywhere else at all, def not in the UK.

        • Canada. It totally happens in Canada, too. In fact, since our Thanksgiving is already over (mid-October), I've heard friends who live near the border say that Canadians are often more into it since it's the last decorating holiday until Christmas. The influx of giant inflatable lawn-ornaments and orange fairy-lights in my neighbourhood lead me to agree πŸ™‚

        • I don't think that's necessarily true at all. I'm Scottish, grew up in England and trick-or-treated every year growing up. Now, I live in Scotland again and my children, and all of their friends, go trick or treating every year.

          1 agrees
    • But unfortunately, it doesn't get celebrated in the UK much any more! There's lots of Halloween products for sale but not a lot of trick-or-treating. Makes me sad. (American expat.)

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      • We used to go 'guising' as children (West of Scotland, mid-Eighties) where you had to sing a song, recite a poem etc in exchange for your treat. I think the rise of the more American 'trick or treat' concept possibly makes some people feel unhappy that an American (take on the) tradition is pushing their old one out and sours them a bit on the whole thing (my mum's certainly known to have the odd rant about this). Also there's always the problem in the UK that it falls so close to Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night and – whee – FIREWORKS!

        1 agrees
    • Technically, Halloween isn't British. It's roots are decidedly Celtic (Brits aren't Celts, they're Anglo-Saxons). Halloween largely originated from the Celtic celebration of Samhain.

      2 agree
      • Britain is England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Anglo-Saxons conquered most of Southern England, except some bits like Cornwall. "Celt" is a really ambiguous term, but if it applied to anyone, then that definitely included the non-English Brits!

        It's really great when people remember that Britain is not just England. πŸ™‚

        Hallowe'en is definitely much more of a tradition in Scotland, and I read that that's where the idea of Trick or Treating got taken to the States. They call it guising there though.

        1 agrees
  6. While traveling in New Zealand it was Halloween and so my husband and I put on a little celebration at the hostel we were working at since no one really was used to celebrating. I ended up "carving" oranges to put on the table. Ha ha!

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  7. BRILLIANT idea! Though I am coming at it from the perspective of the awkward person with nothing to give trick or treaters. At least this way you can opt in or out. That said, there is no way I am blowing up any balloons, nor putting them out. I'm globophobic – afraid of balloons – which is oddly appropriate seeing as this is for halloween! I'm still rather cynical about the influx of Halloween stuff in our supermarkets, and I know I'm not the only one! Yet further americanisation of australian culture (no offence to the americans in the room).

    1 agrees
    • Yeh, that's one of the many reasons why I said no to my daughter for years. It's awkward for everyone. BUT my daughter lives in a world where her peer group is hugely important and it is important for me to support her where I can. So we got orange balloons. I honestly thought she'd get bored with it, but here we are, 5 years later…

      Re the globophobic, I have had one person put out a sign instead of a balloon last year. Maybe next year I'll add a note saying a sign is fine as well…

      I've also had more than a few people tell me it was against the bible or a satanic ritual. Which I find awkward to hear. I have no idea how to respond to that.

      3 agree
      • Ask them for a reference to the bit of the Bible that mentions giving out chocolate? πŸ™‚

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  8. This is a great idea, we don't have kids just yet but my American husband is always sad when we get no trick or treaters at the door.

  9. So I'm kind of into the idea of enjoying Halloween… but I don't do candy (very often, I'm working on it!) and I'm not comfortable with giving kids something I don't believe in (even if I am sweet tooth and cheat on my rules all the time)… so what do I do when/if kids ring my doorbell?

    • My friend has something similar in her area. Last year she was saying that her son received stickers, noise makers, party poppers, pens, pencils, as well as lollies. Maybe you could give treats like these instead of lollies.

      5 agree
      • Mini toys are a great idea, but don't be the person who gives out pencils. No kid likes the person who gives out pencils. πŸ˜‰

        Stickers sound like an awesome idea.

        1 agrees
    • There's a person in our neighborhood who gives the kids glow stick bracelets and necklaces. The kids all seem to love them!

      • That is an awesome idea! And better yet, if we get no trick or treaters, we can keep them for the following year (and I won't be tempted into eating them all in a hormone-fueled binge).

  10. Where I am in the UK Halloween is a Massive deal. Probably every kid in our neighbourhood is out, ranging from a few months old to 15/16 year olds.
    I think the small kidlets with their parents are very cute but a large portion of the teenagers have dispensed with the collecting sweets part and spend the evening egging cars and houses. πŸ™

    1 agrees
    • Really? That's awesome! Where do you live? I'm up in Edinburgh and I haven't seen any trick-or-treaters here… although the Samhuinn people are always great fun.

  11. This is a great idea, especially if pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns aren't readily available.

    Another trend that's be catching on here in American is called Trunk-or-Treat. Where I grew up, it was so rural hat our parents had to drive use from house to house to trick or treat (which definitely limited what kinds of extravagant homemade costumes we could make), or some parents would literally drive to a whole different town just to find a neighborhood where trick-or-treating could be done on foot. So, Trunk-or-Treat sprang up to avoid this headache (and to ease the minds of parents worried about stranger danger). The way it works is that everyone involve meets someplace with a big parking lot (like a school or a church. Then, the parents arrange their cars in a big circle, facing out. Everyone has decorated their trunks ahead of time. The kids can go around in costume and trick-or-treat at each trunk. Some places to costume contests and the usual Halloween party type stuff.
    The small city that I work at also has trick-or-treating in the downtown. Businesses that want to participate put a paper pumpkin in the shop window, and then neighborhood kids can trick-or-treat in the downtown the Friday before Halloween. Safe, fun, gets people downtown. The local kids dance school usually performs a zombie dance in the middle of the street.

    1 agrees
  12. Last year was my first year living without my parents in an apartment. I went all out for Halloween- Orange and Purple Lights, Spider Webs, Bats everywhere, Spooky welcome mat, skeletons, and pumpkins. I also bought the BEST candy since I knew most of the kids in the area were fairly poor and wanted them to have a good night. I left the decorations up for all of October so that the neighbors would know that we would be celebrating. Unfortunately, we only got ONE trick-or-treater. I was very disappointed (I think the kid was happy though since I gave him almost all of my candy). I think this year I will definitely post notes near the mailboxes to let the neighbors know that we'll be giving out awesome candy.

    • Unless the apartment complex sets something up, it can be difficult to know if you will get any trick-or-treaters coming to your apartment. I've gotten candy many times and had no one show up. I wish more complexes would set something up where people who wanted trick-or-treaters put something on their doors and there was a set time for kids to trick-or-treat. There aren't many kids in the complex I live in now, but I might try to organize it sometime if I am in a place with more kids.

      1 agrees
    • This happened to me too, but I expected it because our apartment complex wasn't easy to get into and many of the families who did live there were immigrants.

      I was so happy to get the one trick or treater that I dumped an entire bag of candy in her plastic pumpkin!

      1 agrees
  13. Love this! What city do you do it in? I've never seen it in Sydney. My (American) parents are visiting now and asked what our daughter was going to be for Halloween. They were so sad to hear it's not widely celebrated here. I may have to start this tradition when she's old enough to trick or treat

  14. I'm thinking of putting up *something* at my inner west Sydney house so that neighborhood kids know that we'll have candy! Might as well be orange balloons… πŸ˜‰

  15. My family home is in the suburbs of Geelong (I live in Melbourne for uni) and last Halloween my dad received a balloon and note just like this-a new family had moved in across the street and Dad said he loved being able to help out and have a bit of fun.
    Coincidentally this was also the first year I attended a Halloween party, where the costumes were a mix of scary things and random characters-so now I'm totally on board and am planning on 'spooky-ing up' an event we're running tonight in Ingham.
    Halloween is an American thing but dressing up is fun and I don't see the harm in celebrating it in Australia…its not like we're celebrating the 4th of July over Australia day

  16. I definitely like the idea but wish it was more sustainable. Balloons are such an environmental hazard (even those latex ones take years to biodegrade) and even if people are being sensible, there will always be those that get loose of those that aren't used. A flag or crepe ribbon would be more sustainable and less likely to end up either flying away or ending up in the landfill. Just as this is a children's holiday, doesn't hurt to teach them about doing things in an environmentally-friendly way.

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