Halloween through a European’s Eyes

Via Ricardo das Neves
on Oct 29, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

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.


About Ricardo das Neves

Ricardo das Neves is the author of Unenlightened: Confessions of an Irreverent Yoga Teacher, and is occasionally known to tweet (@spirithumor). See more VISUAL YOGA BLOGS here. When he’s not trying to be funny, he acts very serious teaching yoga classes in and around Seattle. Subscribe to future VISUAL YOGA BLOGS here. Connect with him on Google+


5 Responses to “Halloween through a European’s Eyes”

  1. r3t0dd says:

    Isn't Halloween an Americanization of a Irish holiday?

  2. feistisnice says:

    Halloween is based in the pagan holiday of Samhain or really, any kind of autumnal harvest holiday. Plus, the practice of celebrating macabre and death resonates in many cultures around the world. (Mexico's day of the dead a prime example) Not to mention that carnival and festivals have been practiced in Europe since before the middle ages, which revolve around costuming, symbolic inversion and flipping your reality upside down.

    Now, has Halloween become commercialized? Sure, but the practices that the author mentions are not unusual or unique to the U.S. I guess the point was the exportation of commercialized ideas of Halloween to other parts of the world is an issue, and I can agree on that. But the examples cited are not supporting that argument. Those are long standing cultural practices, that give meaning to people and those have to be respected in a sense, right?

  3. mary fitzsimons says:

    oiche shamhna(pronounced ee ha hawmn na) translated as the night of samhain/november
    is an irish festival, one of the 4 festivals of the corner days, the solstices and equinoxes, Marking these is not solely an irish tradition, walpurgis nacht celebrates may 1 or bealtine, and bonfires and celebrations also mark the winter and summer solstices throughout Europe and trick or treating is part of all of them. We have imported pumpkin seed though, pumpkins are easier to carve than turnips/swedes ( thats rutabagas to you).

  4. You can make ANY holiday your own, Christmas, Halloween, etc. You can def get creative and make costumes, and have kids create their own! I’m an athiest who loves Christmas, but aside from baking supplies and maybe a couple bottles of extra wine, i dont spend any extra money, just time with friends and family. No need to complain – every holiday is what you make of it and what you teach your kids! Your choice.