Halloween and Bonfire Night in New Zealand

As I write this article, screeches, bangs and cracks punctuate my train of thought, accompanied by luminous colours at the dark window. It’s the fifth of November, but it won’t be for much longer.

I’m not celebrating – it’s a Tuesday night and it’s raining – and, besides, I went to a bonfire party last Saturday. I didn’t celebrate Halloween. That was last Thursday and my boyfriend had an exam the next day; Halloween isn’t that big in New Zealand anyway.

Some people would disagree with me – I mean it isn’t that big compared to America, or even Britain. It is celebrated: the occasional shop or café puts up decorations, one or two kids come to your door in token outfits, there are a few fancy dress dos… nothing major. Costume places make a huge effort, of course, but during my twelve years in New Zealand I’ve found that a much bigger deal is made out of Guy Fawkes, or Bonfire Night.

Because, you know, kiwis love explosions.

InfernoComing from Britain, Halloween in New Zealand has never seemed quite right to me in the first place. In the Northern Hemisphere, Halloween happens just as the world is about to be plunged into the darkness of winter; in the Southern Hemisphere, it happens as we’re entering summer. Nothing particularly spooky about that.

As for Bonfire Night, no one cares about its significance – it’s just an excuse to blow things up.

The sale of fireworks is illegal in New Zealand except for on the fifth of November itself and the three days preceding it, so you have to stock up in advance for your New Year celebrations. Also, rockets are banned. I found this fact disappointing when I first moved here, but so many people are irresponsible with fireworks that I’m now quite glad.

You always get teenagers sneaking fireworks into school and singeing their eyebrows. You always get drunken idiots holding them in their hands and firing them in any direction but the sky. And as for the people who aim them at animals… For some reason I find the thought of cruelty to animals worse than cruelty to other humans.

Thankfully, most people are responsible and all the bonfire celebrations I’ve been at have been good fun. Well… apart from this year’s. I’ve never feared for my life quite so much as at this particular bonfire party.

IMG_1072It was a large gathering. It took place on a big property with an appropriate field. There was an impressive bonfire going when we arrived.

There were three distinct groups of people: high schoolers, students and the parents of the high schoolers and students. Surprisingly enough, we, the students, were being sensible young adults, not letting off any fireworks, though this was because there were already heaps of fireworks going off around us. The high schoolers – (I find it amusing to be grumbling about ‘immature teenagers’ when I was a teenager so very recently) – weren’t paying attention to where they were pointing the fireworks, every so often sending one in our direction, causing us to scatter. The problem was that there weren’t really any safe places to scatter to, as, on the other side of us, the parents were being almost as bad, shooting fireworks into the bush!

It’s been a particularly dry year this year, so it was lucky the undergrowth didn’t catch fire. Oh, and just on the other side of the patch of trees was the neighbours’ house. But they were on holiday, so it was all right. Of course.

What’s the point of shooting fireworks into the bush anyway? You can’t see them properly. It’s a waste.

Maybe it would explain a lot if I told you that this bonfire party took place in West Auckland.

IMG_1083I attended another bonfire in West Auckland several years ago. It was in a huge field that had an old caravan in it. Someone had a dog that was running madly around and around the bonfire. Then someone threw a stick onto the bonfire and the stupid dog followed it.

It was fine! Relax! There was a hose on hand. Its fur was just a bit frizzled.

The best Bonfire Night I ever had was when my mum, my dad, my sister and I went to our friends’ house in… well I’d better not tell you where. My parents are teachers, and all their friends are teachers, and I was a student at the high school where my parents and their friends taught. And this house we went to was next-door to the school.

Now, this group of us, which included several teachers of this high school and all their children, had a load of fireworks to set off, including ground bloom flowers, those ones that spin on the ground and you can battle them like tops. The garden, however, was a bit small, and there was nowhere to safely set the ground bloom flowers off. What we needed was a large, flat, concreted or tarmaced area – where better than the school quad?

So we sent the little fireworks spinning off across the quad and had a lot of fun.

Then cold, harsh light of Monday morning came. I was in assembly and a rather annoyed school principal was standing at the lectern.

“I would like the students responsible for the large scorch marks on the quad to do the honourable thing and come forward.”

I sat there stifling my laughter as I imagined the sheepish looks that must have been crossing particular teachers’ faces. No one came forward.

new frame brazierI suppose a good thing about Halloween and Bonfire Night in New Zealand is it’s a lot warmer being outside than it is in England. It’s probably safer for kids to go trick-or-treating too. There are also more open spaces to let off fireworks, although you do have to be careful about starting bush fires. There are many ‘FIRE DANGER TODAY’ signs around the rural areas of New Zealand, which have a moveable arrow indicating the current level of risk. Depending on the ‘fire season’ and the council, you may need a permit to light a bonfire, but you aren’t likely to be granted that permit if the risk is ‘HIGH’ or higher. Just be sensible.


8 thoughts on “Halloween and Bonfire Night in New Zealand

  1. Rowan says:

    Abby, great blog & article! It’s funny, I was thinking about this topic this afternoon. I’ve realised the peculiar obsession kiwi’s have with Guy Fawkes since moving to Sydney. In Australia, people wouldn’t even know what Guy Fawkes Day is, let alone mark with any kind of festivity. It’s true we really are more British than the Aussies.


  2. Mysty says:

    I wonder when you’ve been brought up in Britain but have emigrated to NZ, when autumn comes round, does it make you think about Halloween and Bonfire Night, or does that leave you eventually? It’s autumnn now, and I see the fallen leaves all brown and russet and red on the ground, and the mists and the shadows, as I go about my day, and, it makes me think of and look forward to Halloween – while, the first time I see the change into autumn each year, immediately I see pumpkins and ghosts in my head, and start wanting to make toffee apples and treacle toffee, and thinking about going to a spooky old inn or buying a ghost story novel and, smoky hot dogs to eat before the fire, etc I think it would be hard to see autumn and think of Halloween, and then have to think, “hang on, that’s in 6 months time, I’m in NZ now” ,,, I am a Halloween and autumn lover. I empathise with what you say about spring not seeming spooky for Halloween, as it’s like the season of autumn which makes me think of spooky things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kiwipom91 says:

      That feeling never goes away. I see russet, then bare trees and look forward to Halloween/Guy Fawkes/Christmas. Although I’ve started getting the Kiwi Christmas feelings too now – summer’s in the air; that means Christmas shopping! I actually have a whole bit about Halloween celebrations in my novel. (It’s a fantasy novel set in a small town in New Zealand. One of the characters is a British immigrant who misses proper Halloween and is trying to tell her Kiwi friends about the real meaning of it… I really think you’d like it actually, reading what you’ve written above.) What I miss is sitting in old pubs beside a roaring fire with howling darkness outside. You don’t get pubs like that in New Zealand. (The only New Zealand medieval-esque pub with a roaring fire I’ve come across is the Green Dragon in Hobbiton and, of course, that was deliberately designed to be that way. If you ever visit New Zealand, you MUST go to Hobbiton. You’ve probably read this article, but just incase: https://pomsawaydownunder.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/what-hobbitons-like/)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mysty aka Among The Mists says:

        Great blog post in the link. I would guess when there’s not really history around you it tends not to be something you think about as much. Here in England we’re naturally attuned to the ancient as it’s all around us very visibly, so of course we tend to wonder and think about what went on historically wherever we happen to be in Britain. And, obviously, if you are interested in history here, you can visit lots of places, which makes your interest more rewarding, I guess. I also get a feel for things like that that too, (perhaps a bit, as they say, psychic. Which is common here in some areas. I.e, my beloved Glastonbury and the South West). I’m sure if I moved to the beautiful country of New Zealand I’d have this deep curiosity about the Maori folklore and especially anything local.to my home. If I lived somewhere which had the autumn season and falling leaves, I’d celebrate the pagan feast of Samhain then – and probably do Halloween in Spring also just for the love of spookiness! Your novel sounds fun. and I’m sure I’d love it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • kiwipom91 says:

        Kiwis do have a thing called “Midwinter Christmas”, like a miniature Christmas celebration in the depths of winter, but it’s not that big a thing. In the small town I used to live in, there was a massive Norfolk Pine on the highest hill in town, and someone had put a light-up star at the top, which was turned on during winter nights. And at Christmas, presumably.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wonder what seems spooky & ghosty about New Zealand – the NZ version of spookiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kiwipom91 says:

      It’s a pity that Maori folklore isn’t more widely known amongst the non-Maori population of New Zealand. I don’t know of any local folklore for Hamilton. There’s said to be ghosts at this old hotel in Waitomo (old, because it was built in the first half of the 20th century!) but that’s more played up for tourists than actually ingrained. The hotel corridors did have a ring of the Shining about them though… There’s a spooky story of a ghost waka (Maori canoe) appearing on Lake Tarawera before the volcano erupted and killed a lot of people. People don’t seem as interested in history/folklore here. Non-Maori, that is. Storytelling is a huge part of Maori culture. This is pretty much the sum of my New Zealand folkloric knowledge: https://pomsawaydownunder.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/the-magical-creatures-of-new-zealand/ – I’ll keep an eye out for more, because my bookshelves are full of fantasy encyclopaedias.

      Liked by 2 people

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