Operation: Orange Balloons

The following is from a blog post of mine, substantially rewritten and improved by Jacinta, an old Smithfieldian friend.  You’re welcome to take this idea and use it yourself as well.  The plan is to stick an orange balloon and the following letter in an envelope and stick the envelope in a letter box; rinse and repeat for every house on your street.  Then see if Halloween can be made Australia-compatible.  Worth a try, anyhow…

Halloween is an 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 it, 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 socially awkward for it.

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. 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 balloon and hang it up outside.  On your letterbox is good.  Then lay on some lollies for the visiting munchkins.  If all else fails and nobody shows up, you’ve got some sugar to console you!

If you would prefer not to have anything to do with it, just throw the balloons away (or drop them back in our letter box for recycling) and ignore the whole mess.

Kids who want to go trick-or-treating 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 think it’s worth a try. Halloween is Saturday this year, so it’s a good year to start.

Let’s see how it goes.


“How it goes” was: brilliantly. Our next door neighbour, whose newborn grand-daughter was visiting, had been dreading the doorbell rings and knocks all evening.  With Operation: Orange Balloons in place, all they had to do was not put up a balloon and they were left in peace all night.  I took my kids around the street, dressed in their Halloween finery, and they got lots of lollies and impressed lots of people with their costumes.  We had maybe forty or fifty visitors just from our street of a hundred-odd houses, and every one of them agreed the plan was brilliant.

Halloween is a different night each year, of course.  In 2009 it was a Saturday, so it was easy to arrange this and fit in with school and work.  It’ll be Friday again in 2014, but a low-key version with a curfew can work perfectly well any year.  So please: share this idea in your community.  It has a track record, and it works.  It solves a couple of clear problems, and it’s fun.  Sure, it might feel like you’re giving in to American TV culture, but really you’re doing what all the smartest cultures do: picking the best bits and making them your own.  Why not?

Epilogue 2

Four years later in 2013, in the town of Geeveston, Tasmania, where we now live, we tried this plan again.  Jacinta and others have been doing it successfully back in Canberra and elsewhere, so we thought we’d give it another go.

So how did it go?  Two hundred houses received balloons and letters, and nearly forty of them decided to put balloons out and lay on the lollies.  Well over sixty kids and their parents joined in, helped and encouraged by the Geeveston Community Centre and the shopkeepers of the town.  It worked, again!

Epilogue 3

In 2014 we were away for Halloween, but the Geeveston Community Centre continued the tradition, and it was a success again.  We’re back in 2015 for the third go, whereupon it will officially have become A Tradition and be unassailable henceforth…

Epilogue 4

In 2015 there were slightly fewer houses with balloons up, probably because we did it on the Friday (the 30th) instead of on the actual day of Halloween. There were still an estimated 60-100 kids wandering about, and the costumes were more inventive than in previous years.

Meanwhile, the arguments against the idea boiled down to two rather stupid points: first, that Halloween isn’t appropriate for Australia because it’s an American idea (it’s not), it’s un-Christian (with a name like “All Hallow’s Eve”? I don’t think so!) or because the harvest festival should be in Autumn, not spring (so what?); and second, that encouraging kids to accept lollies from their unknown neighbours was giving them mixed messages about “stranger danger”.  That second argument is deeply disturbing; having seen what damage is done to our culture by the indiscriminate fear of the unknown, I am at a loss to explain why anyone would put forward the idea that getting to know people is a bad thing.