When I first moved to Europe going on seven years ago I was bummed that I felt they didn’t really celebrate Halloween, American style. Dressing up, spider webs, pumpkin carving, creepy music, Trick-or-Treating…Halloween was always my most favourite holiday. I love costumes and basically will use any excuse whatsoever to dress up. Movie premieres, themed outings, costume parties, for whatever little reason I can think of, I will happily put together a costume.
Just the other day I joyfully “dressed” as a witch and took the tram to the other side of town for the after-school program I run at an international school. (FYI: That was awesome! People waving, heads swiveling. The best part was when the kids at school said to me, “Miss Zuzu, you look like a real witch.” SCORE! )
When I lived in Switzerland/France/Spain/Czech Republic I was always the “American” organising Halloween costume parties. My friends thought it was an adorable novelty. I just thought, “Oh my God, we can’t say ‘no’ to dressing up!”
What took me some time to realise is that people in Europe do indeed celebrate “Halloween,” although not in the drunken-revelry-costumed American form.
Rather, the majority of Europeans celebrate a version of Halloween in its more respectful form of All Saint’s Day (November 1): A much more mellow and subdued holiday. Here in the Czech Republic (and Spain, and Switzerland, France, etc.), All Saint’s Day is a national holiday during which families will get together and place flowers, candles, gifts and other assorted sundries on the graves of their loved ones. How beautiful is that? So much better than a night of drunken, costumed, ass-hattery. Or maybe it’s that I’m getting older and milder in my tastes of a good time. Whatever. I think it’s lovely. Both how they celebrate November 1 and the fact that I’m growing up. So there.
One of my favorite places in Prague is Vyšehrad, the original 6th Century settlement of the city. There is an amazing cemetary up there where Mucha and other famous Czechs are buried. If you were to go up to the Vysehrad Cemetary, like, now, you’d see lots of votive candles placed on the ornate gravestones that could easily be considered a sculpture garden rather than a graveyard. All of the weeds have been pulled free. Bouquets placed lovingly in patterns. Women in black with scarves over their blond hair. A general air of loss expressed with love. Although I don’t know personally know anyone buried up there, around this time of every year I have this overwhelming urge to trek up the hill and leave votives, flowers and art on a grave. Or several. Maybe one year I will do it. Stay tuned. 🙂
The longer I live in places where November 1 is a sacred day, a day to reflect on our losses, pay our respects to the dead, and believe that the Spirits still walk among us knowing how much we love and miss them, the more inclined I am to quiet myself down come today. Lovingly remember all of those I have lost, to death and otherwise. A day to think about the various parts of myself that have been shed, easily and painfully, in due course or out of the blue. This is a day to return to myself, put my life in perspective, and understand how I am to move forward.
We’ve all got losses for which we must grieve every now and then. Who, Dear Reader, do you light candles for on All Saint’s Day? If someone you lost would dress up today, what would be their costume? When was the last time you felt a beloved Spirit? I would really love to know. Wishing you a blessed All Saint’s Day. xoxo
This blog is part of the Expat’s World Blog Surf Day. The next blog in the series on our favorite local custom is by Ricky Yates. Just in case the link to any of the articles is broken, you can find the complete link list at Czech off the Beaten Path. Follow and enjoy!
The Twitter journalist for this edition of World Blog Surf Day is Karen, an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, “Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing–and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.”
17 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Celebrate Halloween Like I Used To”
Hi Sezin – Sorry for being a few days late visiting all the WBSD participants. I’m starting with those who like you, have commented on my post! Thanks too, for the direct link to my blog.
As Kookykrys rightly says, Halloween is a corruption of All Hallows Eve, that is the eve of All Hallows Day, All Holy Ones Day, now known in English as All Saints Day. But there is such a marked contrast in the way the two days are celebrated and like you, I’d much prefer the peaceful rememberance of those who have gone before rather than encouraging children to do the very things parents spend the other 364 days of the year telling them not to do!
It’s always a pleasure to ready your insightful posts, Sezin. You asked great questions here and prompted very interesting comments.
Growing up in France, I was only familiar with la Toussaint (All Saints’), which is like you said a very quiet and subdued celebration. Hallowe’en was something we heard about on TV, although by the time I left Europe, some people were beginning to celebrate it in France, mostly in Paris and other cities with large North American expat populations.
As far as I can tell, the French don’t see Hallowe’en as encroaching on All Saints’ Day. They’re two separate things – and at this point, only children and teenagers celebrate Hallowe’en, whereas everyone knows and understands the deep significance of All Saints’ Day.
Being someone who loves having fun and also who has lost many people to illness or accident over the years, I appreciate both sides of the holiday. I actually enjoy combining a night of silly costumes and fun revelries with a more spiritual, inward-oriented day of remembrance.
I’m not sure if you knew, but the roots of Halloween are based on respecting the dead. It was originally a Celtic celebration. The Celts believed at this time of the year that the boundaries between the living and dead were especially thin – and that meant for both good spirits and bad. On the night of Halloween, they would wear masks to scare away the bad spirits/ghosts, and often have a feast waiting to welcome their ancestors and good spirits.
Here in Switzerland, we had a quiet night at home with a pumpkin we’d carved, and a fun Halloweeny dinner I made. We live across the street from a graveyard, but I didn’t happen to walk by it on All Saints Day. I usually do walk by it with my toddler and/or the dog, and there is almost always someone in it visiting a grave. I don’t think I ever saw that many folks visiting a graveyard back in the US. And all the graves here are well-kept, each with a tiny garden on them.
So true! This past Halloween, I was in the country outside of Salta and mostly forgot the holiday.
Last year, I was in Buffalo trick-or-treating. For me, it’s not only a very American holiday, but one of the American suburbs. While we did dress up and trick-or-treat in Brooklyn also, it was never quite the same.
Having only lived in Europe and never in the States, I have real difficulties to “understand” the idea of a loud “all hallows eve”. In Germany like in the Czech Republic, it is more a day of remembering the deceased, taking care of the graves and celebrating their lives. SY
Halloween seems so shallow and has more than a taint of commericialism about it, glad you have come to terms with it.
I need to ask my husband how popular All Saints Day is here, I’m not familiar with it!
I was very amused to see this topic from your point of view 🙂 fyi, back in 2005 I happened to visit my relatives in Switzerland in mid-October, and I remember being driven around the countryside and spotting mounds and mounds of pumpkins being sold at the sides of the road, and my aunt commenting “we didn’t have this 5 years ago, and now this Halloween thing is everywhere!” … i assume that means even pumpkins weren’t sold in that way before? 😀 I do hope the “American version” doesn’t squeeze out much more healthy-for-the-soul version that exists 😀
Great post…and yes…great minds think alike! :0) I, too, hope that the American way of celebrating Halloween will not spread to the rest of the world. Halloween has become such a consumer-based holiday–much like Christmas, etc. It’s very refreshing to see these holidays celebrated in the “old world” way…with more meaning and more depth to them.
I really enjoyed your post…and think it’s great we are both moved by this European way of celebrating All Saints Day!
Have a great day!
Nice to know I’m not the only one wandering around cemeteries on November 1st 🙂
This is such a beautiful post. We Americans love everything so loud and commercialized and fun. I really enjoyed reading your appreciation for a non-commercialized All Saint’s Day thanks to being here as an expat. In fact, I would say hearing about this holiday and the European way of approaching it is the number one thing I’ll take away from my participation in World Blog Surf Day. It just seems that Europeans know their history better and honor their losses thoughtfully. Well done.
You don’t mention it, but I’m sure you know that the name Halloween is just a shortening of All Hallows (All Saints’) Eve, ie the day before All Saints’ Day. As the others say, it does seem to be spreading around the world, but it’s hardly surprising – such a fun combination – candy and dressing up!
Sezin, as you know, we dont have halloween and all saints day in tr..)) but we just had 29 oct…with militairy parades etc.)
Great post. It’s funny, like Roz says, everyone here in the Netherlands asks me a lot if we celebrate Halloween in the UK because they see it as a very American holiday. We do celebrate it, but it’s mainly just an excuse to be silly and go out.
But in my opinion, I do think the Dutch celebrate it in their own way. This year I have spotted a lot of pumpkins, something I’ve ALWAYS associated with America and Halloween. They are everywhere – outside of many people’s houses. I asked my Dutch partner if they were for Halloween but he didn’t know. Last week I saw them in a flower shop as “Halloween pumpkins” so I guess that’s my question answered. I also see some houses nearby decorated with witches in the window. Another Halloween tradition to me. People here really like decorating their homes here so whatever is popular in the flower shops, lots of people have them hence the huge rise in houses with pumpkins strewn in the garden!
It’s strange, isn’t it – how Halloween is a very American celebration? People are starting to celebrate it more in the UK but it’s not really celebrated at all in Australia.
It was interesting to read your post and see how you are changing as a person partly because of a different environment – I think that happens to all of us expats!
It’s actually the same here in Prague this year! Carved pumpkins abound as do Halloween decorations. I wonder if in a few years the American way of celebrating All Hallow’s Eve will be global? As much as I love the holiday, I am sort of hoping not. 🙂
Hello from Ohio! I never really got into Halloween since I came to US as a young adult. I must admit though that I forgot about “Dusicky” holiday and am seriously thinking about starting a new tradition with my American family. We usually visit the graves only around Christmas time…
Happy surfing :o)
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