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Halloween, American Style

Despite having lived in the States for twenty years, you’d be surprised at how many bits of American culture I still haven’t embraced. Top of that list is marching bands, which are ever-present at college football games and positively set my teeth on edge. They’re loud, and not particularly pleasing to the ear – especially when they attempt the ubiquitous “Rock n’ Roll”, by Gary Glitter. Fortunately I only ever come across college football on TV where there is an “Off” button.

Parades are another pet hate – perhaps because they include marching bands? For many important days in the US calendar (Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day) there’s a parade. The big ones in New York City are televised, but many cities and towns across the land have their own parades. Unfortunately, many of them are during our winter months, so not only would I be required to stand on the side of the road with crowds of other people, but we’d usually be in sub zero temperatures. I think not.One piece of American culture I have wholeheartedly embraced however, is Halloween. Yes, I’ve stepped over to the dark side. I know many people (usually not in the USA) think Halloween is just one big commercial hijack, and indeed, Hallmark makes more money from this “holiday” than all the others combined, but it’s not like that. Really.

Since my seventeen year old was a baby, I have immersed myself in coming up with Halloween costumes for my kids (did I mention that these costumes don’t have to be scary? The world’s your oyster.) I’ve sewn Red Riding Hood, Bo Peep and Marie Antoinette for her, glued robots and monsters for the boys, and painted a new toilet brush black for a chimney sweep outfit. The school has a Halloween parade for the younger kids, and everyone else in the building comes out to see them walking around, grinning from ear to ear. We decorate our house (tastefully, of course), put polystyrene gravestones in the front yard/garden and make black paper bats to hang from the light fixtures (we will not be sticking them to the walls this year as removal took half the paint off last time.)

The weekend before Halloween we will carve pumpkins with our neighbors. Well, the kids will carve with adult supervision; the adults will enjoy wine and snacks – that reminds me, I must remember to locate our special pumpkin carving kit, you can end up in the emergency room if you use ordinary kitchen knives. The pumpkins will then be on display outside our front door till the squirrels demolish them.

Halloween itself is a community event where we live, with adults sitting on their front stoop, often dressed up themselves, handing out candy to the neighborhood children. UNICEF even has a program called “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” whereby the children carry pre-printed boxes and collect coins for the charity. How can anyone be cynical about that, I ask?

Halloween is tinged with sadness here in the Midwest as we know we’re about to be plunged into sub-zero temperatures and probably won’t see our neighbors till sometime around mid-April. Perhaps that’s why we make such a big deal of it?

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Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.

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