There is no long-standing cultural tradition of Halloween in Uruguay. According to our neighbor, it started gaining popularity here about ten years ago, mostly through American movies. More than one person told us that people still don’t know what to do with Halloween here, which seemed to be true. The best answer we could get about when trick or treating started or where kids went to trick or treat or how Halloween worked at all, was that it depended. Depended on the school, on the neighborhood, on the apartment building, on the family.
Halloween is not a large enough holiday here to be sanctioned by the commercial powers at the upscale shopping mall down the street from us. Stores had small sections of decorations and costumes that appeared in the week or two before Halloween and then disappeared immediately after to make room for Christmas. The mall itself devoted no energy to the holiday, unless you count the giant white sheets hung three stories high in the main entrance to hide construction on the intricate and highly anticipated Christmas display.
Sparse decorations and little recognition were not the case at the kids’ school. There it appeared that they had been hoarding the country’s meager supply of Halloween decorations and trying to make up for all the Halloweenless years previous Uruguayan children had endured. Every wall was festooned with cobwebs, spiders, paper jack-o-lanterns, and happy halloween banners. The doorways were draped in orange plastic streamers that had be pushed aside like beaded curtains. The boy’s class celebrated Halloween by spending the English portion of the day in a costume party where kids came dressed as characters from Monsters High, ghosts, witches, devils, and zombies. They played elaborate Halloween-themed games, including one where the teachers, dressed as ghosts, changed colors depending on what they ate. The children walked around the neighborhood singing songs and trick-or-treating at prearranged locations. The boy came home with a belly full of Halloween-themed cookies (he remembered eating at least eight) and a bag of candy almost as large as he earns during an entire night of trick-or-treating at home, though with fewer (if any) choice candies for parental sampling.
Since the school party was ghost, witch and zombie themed, the girl’s class skipped the festivities. Instead, a couple of weeks ago, they had a spring-themed costume party where they performed a song and dance for the rest of the school. Spring-themed costume parties may not be a cultural tradition in the United States, but count me as an early adopter. Take a moment to imagine the utter cuteness of 18 two- and three-year-olds milling around dressed as ladybugs, gardeners, bees, kites, and bunnies, and I think you’ll find yourself quickly climbing aboard this bandwagon.
In the evening, we saw a few kids out in costumes, but where they stopped to trick or treat was haphazard. We all longed for the orderly system of outside lights in the Burg, which let trick-or-treaters know, without a doubt, where they are welcome. Taking our children to the streets to ring doorbells at random seemed ill-advised and exhausting. However, our morning portero had very kindly gotten the boy and the girl each a generous bag of candy. We walked over to the nearby building where he works the evening shift to show off costumes, collect candy, give him some Halloween themed drawings, and get a trick-or-treating fix. As we walked, passersby reacted with surprise to see a small ghost and a mummy charging down the sidewalk before they remembered what day it was.
Of course, the kids didn’t want Halloween to end and they definitely wanted more trick-or-treating, but they were also hungry and tired and we had nowhere else to go. We tried pointing out that between the bag from school and the bag from our portero there was enough candy to last
Nathan and I the children several weeks, but it was a message from Phoebe, that it was rainy and cold back home, that finally gave us all license to call it a day. The kids ate dinner, recalled the highs and lows of this Halloween, argued unsuccessfully for just one more piece of candy, and, at the last moment before bed, finally relinquished their costumes.