Halloween is by far my favorite holiday and I was lucky enough to marry a woman who shared the same favorite holiday. Having grown up in northern Michigan, Halloween always symbolized the end of Fall and the start of Winter. Often there would be snow, or at least freezing rain, and I would have a costume that needed to fit over a thick winter jacket, snow pants, and boots. And in the dark twilight of the north I would venture from house to house with a mauradering band of ghouls and goblins, knights and superheroes, demanding tricks and treats. The trees would be bare of their leaves, which now littered the streets where our costumes dragged behind leaving a clear trail for our trailing parents to follow. As the cold set in and the chill was felt to our bones, we would temporarily retreat to the community church, which served hot chocolate for the kids and coffee for the adults. Everyone would compare their loot and the bartering system instantly emerged among the costumed children.
Halloween was a carefree period where entire neighborhoods took to the streets and visited each other door-to-door comparing jack-o-lanterns and spooky décor; where sweets and candies of all sorts were distributed and exchanged and a stockpile would be created that would last till Easter and the emergence of Spring. It was a dark night, full of mischief and magic, and a slight dose of fear of the older kids and teenagers who always threatened to take our bags of goodies. Halloween was the holiday that ushered in the dark and cold winter as well as opened the holiday season leading up to Christmas.
Living abroad, capturing the same Halloween spirit has been very challenging. I am now living in the third country that does not celebrate Halloween. In Bangladesh, it was no big deal, as I did not have a family. But since K came along, my wife and I have been trying to instill into him a bit of the Halloween spirit. Luckily, while in Burma, there was a decent sized expat community from Western countries that would celebrate the holiday. The American Club would host a Halloween event every year, which included trick-or-treating, a haunted house, a scary maze, and a costume contest. While it was much hotter than my Halloweens of old, the spirit was still there and K would be very excited to dress in his costume and her really took to the trick-or-treating part of it last year.
Now we are in Sweden, in the small village of Almhult where there are no jack-o-lanterns, no trick-or-treating, and the only Halloween decorations in the town can be found in our windows. Coming to Sweden, I had assumed that they would have celebrated this holiday; I have always considered it a “Western” holiday. And while they do know of it, it is still really new, only becoming noticeable over the past ten years…definitely not long enough to establish a Halloween culture. Sad, as right now the trees have shed their leaves, darkness descends at 5pm, and you can feel the approaching snow in the air, though it has not fallen here yet. The climate is perfect to replicate my Halloween memories; but alas, I am not in northern Michigan, or in the US at all. I live abroad and have made the choice to raise my children in a different cultural setting than what I experienced growing up. So, this year there are no costumes, there is no trick-or-treating, and M’s first Halloween will pass with only a few decorations in the window and uncarved pumpkins on the sill. And I wonder…how will my boys view Halloween? What value will they place in this holiday? What will it symbolize for them? How will my choice to raise them abroad impact their own cultural identity and ability to bond with others over shared holidays?
Who knows, today is All Saints Day and in Sweden families will go and light candles in the cemeteries. Perhaps we will join them, maybe even in costume. Or perhaps my boys will someday celebrate Thingyat, the Buddhist holiday of candles and fireworks also celebrated in October that we have been part of for the past five years living in Burma. Or maybe they will be able to talk about Eid and how they experienced that. When living abroad we make certain sacrifices in hopes that other experiences will fill those gaps. I just hope that the gaps are filled…and that they can still remember the times they also were able to walk door-to-door in the dark cold night demanding tricks and treats from their neighbors.