The changing face of Hallowe’en

The changing face of Hallowe'en

Not all the kids were scared.

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.

Tailgating for Treats in Singapore

Tailgating for Treats

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

Hallowe'en in France

No trick-or-treaters 😦

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.”

Kindergarten Hallowe'en

Celebrating Hallowe’en in kindergarten.

Hallowe'en baby

Younger Daughter, 5 weeks old

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.


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
This entry was posted in Adjustment, Canada, Culture Shock, France, Repatriation, Singapore, Third Culture Kids and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The changing face of Hallowe’en

  1. Being from Wales (the land of very lackadaisical Halloween celebrations, mostly consisting of donning a sheet and shouting ‘Boo’ at unsuspecting neighbors), experiencing the full glory of Halloween in the US was a huge culture shock. Not least of which being how the costume companies turn perfectly innocent nursery rhyme characters into dubious ‘naughty’ adult versions, complete with fishnet stockings and eye popping cleavage. They scare me, which I suppose, in a warped way, is the point..

    • Maria says:

      I grew up with Hallowe’en, and those costumes frighten me too. For every “normal” costume, there’s a companion “sexy” costume. Sexy nun, anyone? I’m not making it up, either — I’ve seen someone wearing that one, and it was horrifying.

  2. Halloween is one of my favourite times of year. In Oz, it’s not such a celebrated thing, as I once wrote about here (time for shameless plug) –

    In Canada, the effort that people go to in dressing up their homes always amazed me but the kids too often demanded treats and, when I asked for a ‘trick’, they’d look at me as if to say “you what?”

    In England, the reverse has happened. Tricks are a given, particularly if you don’t pay out your fair share of treats. Expect the odd egg-ed house or firecracker on your doorstep, but it’s still a tradition that’s celebrated and enjoyed. Thanks for sharing your unique expat experiences, Maria – what’s your trick?!!

    • Maria says:

      Plug away, my friend! I haven’t had any nasty tricks played on me, but I’ve noticed that trick-or-treaters are getting lazy — I saw a lot of repeat customers tonight. And if I told you my trick, I’d have to kill you.

  3. Judy says:

    This article in the Globe & Mail wasn’t published until yesterday afternoon, so I missed it until this morning I love the point it makes about Halloween bringing everyone together.

    • Maria says:

      It’s so true. This is part of why I love Hallowe’en so much. Christmas is about family and friends, but Halloween is about neighbourhoods.

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