I never met a pumpkin I didn’t like.
When I got ready to celebrate another international Halloween…I need to get all my ducks (or pumpkins) in a row. This was always hard when you are living in a new country or location and you are trying to celebrate American Halloween for the first time in that location.
When witches go riding and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers. Tis near Halloween.
I realize it is now late October but for many expats, the planning of Halloween started long before the month of October. Some people put things into their suitcases from this past summer holiday in plans for the upcoming Halloween. Others commander the suitcase space of their traveling spouse to ensure that treats are in their new home country prior to this candy loaded holiday.
What I hadn’t realized is how this impacts places like Canada. This photo was taken on July 31st at a sale at Loblaws in Westboro, Ottawa. This means there was only 92 more shopping days left before Halloween.
When many Expats move they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some sort of nicely sugar-coated layered experience. Blending their home culture into their new culture. Making layer after layer build up into a wonderful beautiful experience for the whole family. They are just like kids going trick and treating, they want all their old and favorite candies in their tick and treat bags along with some new and exotic candies. They want to cling on to some of their background, their history, and their Halloween rituals.
Expectations are hard to meet!
Parents need to be careful and connect with what is special about this holiday for your family. As an expat, you can easily get side tracked and forget what is most important for your family. You get worried about your child’s interactions. You worry about the exposure you child has to something different from his or her home environment. You worry that your child will miss out!
I have talked to a lot of five-year-olds and their parents from around the world. Here are a few things I have been told about Halloween. Remember my sources are five-year-olds!
Austria – We leave bread and water out at night for the dead people.
Belgium – We light candles for dead people in our family.
Canada – The best part is the Jack O’Lanterns!
China – ‘Teng Chieh’ we put food and water by the photos of our dead family. We have lots of lanterns.
Czechoslovakia – We put one chair by the fire for each person in our family, even the dead people.
England – Our pumpkins or ‘punkies’ are made out of large beets. We sing a ‘Punkie Night Song’.
France – We also see pumpkins at McDonalds near Halloween. We are all ‘scary’ not ‘fairy princesses’. We get treats in the stores not at your home.
Germany – We have to be careful on Halloween and we can’t use knives.
Hong Kong – ‘Yue Lan’ (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) It is about spirits!
Ireland – it is just like in the USA. We do costumes and go trick-or-treating. We play ‘snap-apple’, (an apple on a string and you try to bite it) and ‘knock-a dolly’ (where you ring the doorbell and run away).
Indonesia – We don’t have Halloween but we like candy.
Japan – We don’t have this Halloween. We have ‘Obon Festival’ with our dead family members. We clean the house and the graves. It is in July.
Korea – We have ‘Chusok’. It is in August, we visit our dead family and take them rice or fruit.
Spain – We have ‘El Dia de los Muertos’ (days of the dead) but it is a happy celebration. We go to the grave and have a picnic. We have parades.
Sweden – We have ‘alla Helgons Dag’. We get to have a vacation day from school.
But this is our life and as Expats, we try to fit into the host country but most American’s want their children to get scared, over indulge in candy, wear costumes and even let the local children have this holiday.
Family rituals are important
Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.
Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought. I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time and sometimes the rituals start with just one person, but if that person feels it is important and keeps trying sooner or later the event can become a ritual.
Sometimes the ritual comes from having another culture in your life
We have often celebrated Halloween over the top! In Duri, Indonesia the expat engineers took over one of the houses on camp and made a truly ‘scary house’ for all of us to experience. I am not sure who had more fun the adults making the house or the kids going through it.
When you let a group of engineers take over the event, it is way over the top! I thought the eels in the stairwell with plexiglass that you walked over them was a great touch! The pig’s head that moved in and out of the toilet – scared me, I can’t imagine what it did to my seven-year-old. The electric engineers did a great job with the lights and sounds. What took the engineers two full days to complete allowed all of us to be like kids again on that Halloween night.
Years later, I wonder if people are still calling that one home the haunted house? I know the family that moved into it only a few weeks after Halloween. They had no idea what it took to get their empty house back to normal.
Some of my highlights of Halloween living overseas with our young children were carving our pumpkins – One time our pumpkin was a green coconut! We have used Cassava Root to be a pumpkin in Indonesia. We used a Taro root as our pumpkin in Nigeria. Now that was a scary ‘pumpkin’.
We have made sure that our unique global situations allows us to still have Jack o’ Lanterns that are uniquely ours. It has become a family ritual.
Families who move together – grow together.