When I was a child, Hallowe’en was greeted with a sense of anticipation rivaling only Christmas in intensity. Choosing a costume, dressing up, wandering from door to door with your friends and getting free candy — life didn’t get much better than that.
By the time my kids were old enough to toddle for treats, the landscape had changed somewhat. Adults were getting into the game, with elaborate costumes and outlandish decorations becoming commonplace. (I remember Younger Daughter’s terror when a kindly neighbour’s front yard was transformed into a graveyard, complete with spooky lighting, bone-chilling moans, and said neighbour transformed into one of the Undead. I was a little unnerved myself.)
Hallowe’en in Singapore
As with many cherished rituals, our Hallowe’en experience didn’t quite translate when we moved to Singapore. Living in a primarily expat neighbourhood, we didn’t realize this immediately. The kids trick-or-treated within the complex and the Canadian International School held the type of Hallowe’en celebrations we were used to: costumes, class parties, that sort of thing.
Things changed in our final year. Once we moved out of the expat community, it became clear that trick-or-treating on October 31st wasn’t the norm. The few children who came to my door weren’t in costume; in fact, they looked a little unsure of what was expected of them. “Happy Hallowe’en,” they said.
Happy Hallowe’en? What happened to that delightful chant from my childhood:
Trick or treat, smell my feet,
Give me something good to eat!
Well, if “Happy Hallowe’en” was how Singaporeans wanted to interpret the holiday, who was I to argue? Hearing that the school was banning Hallowe’en celebrations after some parents complained was a little different. I was furious. Hallowe’en has been part of Canadian culture since it was first introduced by Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 19th century. The earliest known mention of trick-or-treating in North America was in a Kingston (Ontario) newspaper way back in 1911. It’s as Canadian as the maple leaf.
Part of living as an expatriate — the best part, actually — is trying out new customs. We had embraced Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival with enthusiasm, and had expected our own customs would be accepted by parents who had chosen — out of about a dozen international schools in Singapore — to send their kids to a Canadian school.
I wasn’t the only parent who felt this way, and things got rather heated at the next PTA meeting. Fortunately, one of the more level-headed parents suggested having a tailgate party in the parking lot after school hours, and that’s how Tailgating for Treats was born. Compromise — another Canadian custom — had won the day.
Hallowe’en in France
In Bordeaux, Hallowe’en was a non-event. The holiday was practically unheard of until the late 1990s, and still isn’t all that popular outside Paris.
Elder Daughter was optimistic, though. She and a friend dressed up (as a Frenchwoman and a witch, respectively), sat in our front window with a bowl of chocolate, and waited. And waited some more….
After about an hour, a group of maybe four kids came by, sans costume, for le trick-or-treat. The girls practically threw the entire bowl of chocolate at them and went inside to watch TV. End of story.
Hallowe’en back in Canada
My kids are too old for trick-or-treating now, but I faithfully shell out every year. I especially love that first half-hour, when the littlest ones come to my door. “Trick or treat,” they sing. I drop miniature chocolate bars into their plastic pumpkins as I ooh and aah over their costumes. And as they’re leaving, I always call out “Happy Hallowe’en.”
For another mom’s take on giving expat kids a traditional Hallowe’en, check out my friend Deb’s blog post, Why We Confuse Our Kids on Halloween.