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.”