Expat Life

Celebrating Halloween

Jackolanterns
Confession: I’m a terrible celebrator of Halloween. Always have been. Last year I bought a witch hat on clearance so I could appear to care, but with minimal effort. The littlest thinks it’s beautiful. (Bless him.) The oldest wishes the whole family would dress up as Lego Nexo Knights. (Dream big, buddy.)

I thought living overseas would keep me off the hook for Halloween. Our neighborhood in Bury St. Edmunds, though, was nothing less than a Little America and our neighbors – British and ‘Merican alike – really got into it. Kids would run around shouting to each other which houses had real American candy, because they knew the Americans could do the treat part correctly. As in, with high fructose corn syrup. Here, my husband’s work puts on a Halloween party for kiddos. The oldest’s school will have a “Hallowe’en” celebration. So Halloween is kind of a thing, but there aren’t hoards of children buzzing people’s gates for candy. If they do, no doubt they’ll say “Trick or treat” in English with an Italian accent.

As a child in the Midwestern US, trick-or-treating meant donning a costume, then a coat over the costume, then piling into the Cutlass or the Accord or the Magic Wagon Van (you know the one if you’ve seen it). My mom took us to all the houses of neighboring extended family, our school bus driver, that one family friend, and the farmer friend who handed out wax teeth. This happened through snow and sinusitis. The candy totally made up for the embarrassment of being in the full attention of a Grown Up who my sister and I only kinda knew. Anyway, we ate off the stash of candy at our own house, where the six reciprocating cousins couldn’t make a dent in the bags and bags of Baby Ruths, M&M’s, mini Reese’s Cups, or Hershey mix. (MR GOODBARS!).

^This is not the experience I think non-Americans imagine when they think of the holiday.

Home decor was minimal, mostly just cute pumpkins and fall-themed items. We lived a quarter mile from the road and would have to make quite a fuss to make yard decorations visible to anyone other than my grandparents, cousins, the Schwan’s man, and some of mom’s accounting clients. No one else was ever “in the neighborhood.” There was no neighborhood. So we got to eat most of the cut-out sugar cookies with buttercream frosting and candy corn and sprinkle decorations ourselves.

Then in high school my parents convinced my sister and me to grow pumpkins in the field by our house. We spent our summer tending to that acre, mostly pulling weeds. So many weeds. Come October we cut the pumpkins, sorted them by size, washed them, and sold enough of them to pay for a girls’ trip to the Atlantis resort in Nassau.

I’ve not grown a pumpkin since.

The funny thing is, though, I’ve carved a pumpkin nearly every Halloween since Walden’s first. They’re no masterpiece. I hate the feel of pumpkin guts. But I do it. I don’t do it because the kids know it’s what kids do on Halloween – I could tell them that we’re supposed to smash pumpkins and leave the seeds in hopes that they’ll grow a candy corn tree and they might believe it. I do it because it reminds me of where I come from. I think of my mom scooping out the insides with that big spoon, the plastic one with the metal handle. Now that I think of it, she was always quiet about it. Like she was performing some maternal duty, honoring her obligation to help us hack up those smelly, slimy things so we could experience the joy of lighting up our very own jack-o-lanterns.

And so will I.

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