October 29, 2010

Halloween through a European’s Eyes

This is the conversation about Halloween I would’ve had with my mother (living in Lisbon, Portugal) several years ago:

“Hi, mom! Guess what day it is over here?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s Halloween!”

“What’s Halloween?”

“Well… it’s this day where people sort of celebrate death and ghoulishness.”

“That sounds awful! Why do they do that?”

“That’s a good question, mom. It’s a little like asking why celebrate Christmas when you’re only nominally Christian. You just do, that’s all.”

“Do people exchange gifts?”

“Well, no, not a real exchange. The big thing is to cut into vegetables and leave them out on the porch or front steps.”

“Say what?”

“Pumpkins. Somewhere along the years Halloween coincided with harvest and there were more pumpkins than people knew what to do with, so they just decided that hollowing them out and carving a ghoulish face and sticking a lit candle in it at night sounded like a lot of fun.”

“That’s just plain weird. Do you do that?”

“Uh, no, mom. I don’t have a porch, I live in an apartment building. And you taught me not to play with my food.”

“Well, do they cook the pumpkins and eat them after this Halloween thing?”

“No, I’m afraid they don’t, mom. They just toss them out.”

“For the life of me! That’s just so wasteful!”

“Yeah, well, they do that, and they also adorn their yards with cobwebs and stuff.”

“Cobwebs! God help me, if I saw one, I’d want to start dusting right away!”

“And they also put up ghosts and monsters on their front steps and their doors.”


“Yes, the kids think it’s fun.”

“Don’t the kids get scared?”

“Well, maybe the really young ones get scared by the grave markers that people also put in their front yards. Or the stuff that looks like half-buried corpses.”

“God almighty! That just sounds macabre!”

“Yes, well, it’s a celebration of the macabre, but in a fun kind of way. With witches and monsters and costume parties in which people come dressed in… well, not always in stuff related to the macabre.”

“And why do people go to the trouble of putting up all this stuff in their yard?”

“Uh, so kids come through and ask for candy.”

“What? You have to decorate and give away candy?”

“Hm. You’ve got a point, mother. Well, remember those movies we’ve walked out of thinking ‘They should’ve paid us to see that’? They basically pay the kids to come see their displays.”

“So kids just come through and knock and are given candy?”

“That’s it. Lots and lots of candy. They go from neighbor to neighbor, amassing enough candy to last them… well, actually, I don’t know how long it lasts them. But I’m sure they’re bouncing off the walls for the next few days with all that sugar.”

“Isn’t anybody concerned someone might give drugs to the kids?”

“Well, sugar is a drug by its very definition, remember, mom?”

“Oh, don’t get started on your health stuff again. Which reminds me, did you go see the eye doctor?”

“I certainly did, mom. But even if I hadn’t, some of the pumpkins out here are large enough that legally blind kids could not miss them.”

“I see. So are you going to put up ghoulish things like your American friends?”

“No, mom. I’d have to have a yard, which means I’d also have to mow the lawn all year, and I can think of more enjoyable things to do with my time. Though I suppose, if I did live in a house and left the yard unattended, that’d be an easy way to have a scary place not just at Halloween but all year long…”

Yes, that’d be the kind of conversation I’d have with my mother a few years ago. Now, the conversation would go like this:

“Hi, mom! Guess what day it is over here!”

“Well, if it’s the same as over here, it’s the Day of the Witches.”

And, from now on, when I hear of American companies expanding into new markets, it’s this conversation I’m going to be thinking of.

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