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Spooky, scary, silly strange –Halloween connects us

Halloween – love it or hate it? The day as we know and celebrate it in the USA today is a mash-up of many different cultures and rituals, across many, many centuries. Irish immigrants brought their traditions to the USA and it grew from there. But where did the Irish get it? The origins are unclear and theories abound. Does it matter? Not today. In our family it’s just a silly, spooky day to dress up, get free candy and connect cultures – throughout history.

The roots of autumn rituals run deep in many European cultures, as people traditionally prepared for the cold season ahead. For example, in Germany they used to make “Rübengeister” by carving scary faces into large sugar beets. Growing up in a small German village I remember doing this. We would go door-to-door and “scare” people, who then gave us sweets or money. Sound familiar? Halloween traditions most likely have some roots in Celtic and other naturalistic cultures, while some of today’s rituals are surely more modern. You begin to see how this festival connects.

Finding belonging as kids

As kids we really didn’t care where it came from. Halloween was fun. It was dressing up, carving Jack O’Lanterns and going trick or treating. Except…that wasn’t a thing in Germany. Not yet. Enter military housing complexes. Since we went to local schools we didn’t have much contact with the US community but at Halloween we sure as heck did. We would drive to Lincoln Village and join throngs of kids in costumes, wandering between the decorated apartment buildings in the dark, collecting our candy, giddy with excitement. We loved it and it made us feel “American”, like we fit in somewhere, because in daylight we already knew we didn’t.

Sharing Halloween traditions in Germany 1990s

In the 1990s our family lived in an old German farmhouse with a barn. You know what’s coming: the location was destined to become a Halloween party spot and we had some great events there, sharing our American festival with German friends. Interestingly, according to US-American Halloween traditions started spreading across continental Europe in the 1990s. For better or for worse we seem to have been part of the trend.

Halloween with our children – South Africa & China

Skip ahead a few decades and we find ourselves in South Africa, where a friend organized the first trick-or-treating event in our suburb. For safety she vetted and marked all houses beforehand. It was a crazy rush as all the kids ran from house to house together, not really knowing anything else.

When we came to Beijing on our look & see trip in mid-October 2015 we got a first taste of what we could expect there. The housing compounds were decorated like nothing I’d ever seen before. My suspicion was delightfully confirmed a year later when we participated in our first Beijing trick-or-treat with hundreds of children flocking into the compounds. Quite an experience.

Halloween in Germany today

We moved into our house in Germany in September 2019. Shortly afterwards the neighborhood started showing distinct signs of Halloween preparations. In the 30 years since its introduction, some German communities have fully embraced the holiday and we seem to have landed in the middle of one of them. By 7pm on 31 October the streets were filled with people, there were parties going on and children were running around until late, despite the bitter cold. Sadly, this year will be different but we will hold onto hope for some of the frivolity to carefully return again in 2021 or 2022.

What it all means to me

The origins of Halloween are shrouded in the mists of time and that’s ok. Like language the festival has evolved, shifted, changed, and adapted over time and place. I love the blending of rituals through generations, the sharing across cultures, the merging of traditions that has happened quite naturally. So many of us seem to have a need, a desire to slip into another role by dressing up and blending in as we celebrate a night of mystery and mischief before the coming winter.

Together people around the world have shared and created new traditions and I think that is beautiful.

Apple Cinnamon Waffles

I wasn’t going to include a recipe this week but I made these on Friday to celebrate the last day of school before fall break and they were such a big hit I thought I’d share. Simple, easy and filling they are sweet but the extra egg & almond flour add protein and apples & cinnamon are always a winner.