Yesterday the children and I experienced our first ever American Halloween. My husband likes to recount the glory days of his youth hauling home massive sacks of candy so his stories created high expectations.
We have loved seeing all of the decorations in our neighbourhood. In fact, our boys are so awestruck by the front lawn displays that I am not sure they will recognise the streets in our locale once those decorations come down. There are large flag ghosts, air-filled Igors, scarecrows and pumpkins galore, zombie graves, skeletons and witches everywhere. It’s fantastic and contributed to the excitement of anticipating our first American Halloween. Of course, our house was exceptionally lame by comparison. We don’t own any outdoor decorations for Halloween so all we had were half a dozen pumpkins and all of our seasonal decorations are currently in a shipping container – still in Scotland – so we just had a few odds and ends we had picked up in the two weeks since arriving in the US.
The festivities really started off with a Halloween Parade at the older boys’ Elementary School. My youngest son and I went along to spectate and thoroughly enjoyed seeing all of the kids in their costumes, some of which were amazingly creative or hilarious. There seemed to be a whole squad of ninjas (two of mine included) and princesses and ninja turtles were also strong in numbers. It was great to see everyone having fun and smiling and especially to see my own kids looking so relaxed among their peers, not standing out as “the new kids” at all.
After a hurried dinner, it was time to get into costume. I had a ninja, two zombies and a vampire to assist in getting ready. My fingers were the colour of undead flesh having used them to rub face paint onto the faces of my two oldest boys. Everyone looked suitably ghoulish as we headed out on our first Trick or Treat.
To be clear, it is not that we have never celebrated Halloween before. It is, of course, a thing in Scotland too. However, despite having grown in status over the course of my lifetime, it is still not an event on the scale it is in the US. The traditions are also quite different. Growing up, we made lanterns out of turnips, not pumpkins. Yes, turnips. If you think carving a pumpkin is hard going on the hand and arm muscles, try scooping out the interior of a turnip or swede and making it look like anything other than the basis of a winter soup. In recent years, common sense has developed and Scotland has also adopted the pumpkin as the lantern vegetable of choice. But I’ve still not had therapy to recover from a childhood of turnip carving. The other tradition that is slightly different is that in Scotland we don’t go Trick or Treating; instead we go guising. Children go from door to door, dressed in costume, and have to perform at each household in order to earn a reward. In the case of my kids that meant telling corny spooky themed jokes, some written by themselves. I think I like the idea that the sweeties have to be earned, I have to say.
Anyway, the kids and I set off along our street while my husband stayed behind to dole out colourful sugar to Trick or Treaters who arrived at our door (we switched roles half way through) and the first thing that hit me was how warm it was. It wasn’t even mild. It was actually warm. I’ve never experienced a Halloween before where half your costume wasn’t hidden beneath a parka and even the undead were wearing woolly hats and mittens. Of course, this time last year the eastern seaboard of America had Hurricane Sandy to contend with so I’m not naive enough to think that this will be the normal Halloween climate from hereon in but it was definitely a pleasant experience to be wandering in the dark when the temperature was so warm.
The decorations in the street looked even more festive and spectacular in the dark. There were orange fairy lights bedecking bushes, spotlights on muddy graves from which skeletal hands were emerging, a mummy leering at us from our next door neighbours’ window and, at one house, giant eyeballs peering at us from upstairs windows as if it was a real life Monster House. My kids scurried towards any house with a light on, knocked on doors (at one point I thought my youngest was at risk of taking someone’s hinges off) and clammered “Trick or Treat” to any man, woman, child or dog who appeared at the door. Despite being hyper, they remembered their manners and said “Thank you” each time and didn’t turn their hands into industrial scoops every time a bowl of treats was proffered. Indeed, at some houses they were urged to take more.
They came home with their Halloween buckets (or pails) full to the brim. They then tipped all of their sweets out and arranged them into categories. Some types were familiar to them – M&Ms, Milky Way, Kit Kat and Twix – but most were entirely new varieties. We, therefore, have a lot of experimentation to do over the next wee while.
Watch this space for my kids’ reviews of American candy at some point in the not too distant future.