A REAL Halloween

All week I had been excited about the prospect of trick or treating with C on Halloween night. I had had her costume picked out since early September. She loves all things horse and cowboy/cowgirl related. The bonus was that as Halloween approached, she actually started talking about the holiday. The week of she actually began talking about trick or treating – and it was not because I introduced it. I have, for the most part, learned not to discuss future events with C because she has little or no concept of time and believes everything I talk about in the future is about to happen! Indeed, that morning she sat bolt upright and asked first thing to go trick or treating. I forgot my own rule and told her we would go trick or treating later, after school. Wouldn’t you know it, thirty minutes later I drive up to her school to drop her off and she bursts out crying because she does not want to go to school, she wants to trick or treat!

Realizing that C had a concept of Halloween for the first time and that it coincided with us actually being in the U.S.  filled me with a lot of unexpected happiness. In this Foreign Service life I cannot be sure when we will be in the U.S. at Halloween again. Sure, Halloween is celebrated in other places and even more places co-opt it as a special foreign event, popular in schools, expat community housing, and bars, but there really is no place that celebrates quite like the U.S. I mean that neither negatively nor positively; the U.S. celebration of Halloween is just unique.

In Ciudad Juarez they celebrate Halloween for instance. In fact it seems there along the border it is celebrated more vibrantly than the Day of the Dead. Many children in Juarez attend school in the U.S. (as did their parents) and people appear to enjoy this U.S. tradition. There is trick or treating and the handing out of candy. And yet, it is still, even so close to the U.S., not like in the U.S. In Juarez the children, instead of saying “trick or treat” roam the neighborhoods chanting “Queremos Halloween! Queremos Halloween!” (W e want Halloween! We want Halloween!). The candy generally handed out is of the hard candy variety. The kids seem happy enough with their spoils but having been fairly keen on trick or treating as a child, I know that in the U.S. the hard candy (those Dum Dums and Jolly Ranchers) that some people insist on giving out are more often relegated to the “last to eat” or the “give to mom and dad” pile.

It has been great to be here at this time. The leaves have turned gorgeous fall colors and most trees had shed about half their leaves. Pumpkin season seemed especially good. Although the weather hit a balmy 80 degrees the Tuesday before Halloween, the day of the weather had cooled considerably. It was chilly, around 50 degrees, overcast and windy. Yet this created just the right conditions for a “real” Halloween (except some children, like C, had to wear jackets over their costumes to keep warm, which usually bums some kids out). The fallen leaves were swirling. The crescent moon appeared hazy through the clouds. The air was cool and crisp. It was perfect.

I had initially considered trick or treating with my sister, niece, and nephew, but they were heading out from 5:30 and as I am on the late language schedule at FSI, that is my finish time. I would not get home until 6:30. I decided instead we would trick or treat in the neighborhood behind the hotel. First, I figured the neighborhood backs onto an elementary school so there are likely to be plenty of children living there. Secondly, as it is townhouses, we could cover more ground, more homes, with less walking. I guesstimated a minimum of ten houses and a maximum of twenty.

As we walked over to the neighborhood with grandma, I noticed it seemed very quiet. Few of the homes facing the street had lights on and those with lights gave no indication they would be participating in trick or treating. I saw no children knocking on those doors. I did not even hear any children, which seemed a particularly bad sign.

As we turned on to the first street a house was decorated and had a porch light on with a bowl of candy sitting on the step. No person anywhere to be seen. I directed C to take a piece and she happily did so, dropping it in her pumpkin bucket (yes, the ubiquitous plastic pumpkin bucket). The next few houses were dark. Then another two houses again had only a bowl of candy left outside in front of the door. C went up and knocked on the door anyway, she was so excited. But no one came. Hmmm…this was really strange. I thought first this neighborhood must be filled with some of the most honest kids in America. A great sign for sure, though nowhere near as interesting as actually knocking and saying “Trick or Treat!” Then I wondered if actually this is what trick or treating had become in America. It had been awhile…

Finally we saw not only other children in costume but also a door with a real live occupant handing out candy. Thank goodness! I had begun to feel disappointed that C was not going to get her Halloween experience (nor would I!). After this house there was another and another. We turned at the end of the street and behold there many homes decorated for the holiday, with carved pumpkins on the steps, fake spider webs on the bushes, silhouettes of skeletons and witches in the windows. C began jumping up and down with delight, especially as there were several groups of other children out running from door to door.

Halloween was saved!

All was good until C tripped on a step that activated a motion sensor sound machine that emitted a scary sound and the occupant of the house, dressed in costume, stepped forward to offer C some assistance and give her some candy. C burst out in sobs and begged to go home. And thus ended our first trick or treating experience in the U.S. It could be our last for awhile.

At least we got a small candy haul (certainly plenty for a toddler under 3) and this morning I still got to deny her candy for breakfast, which is a time-honored tradition of American parents in the days and weeks after Halloween.

It was perfect. A real American Halloween.

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