Thursday, October 31, 2013

Give back Halloween. Please. - São Paulo

Jack-o'-Lantern 2003-10-31.jpg

Happy Halloween to all of my fellow Americans!  It is my second favorite holiday, but not one that I celebrate while in Brazil. Oh, oops, I am wearing my favorite black shirt with a spider web and spider on it. But it is really a hex against any creepy-crawlies in my house. I used to go to a Halloween party or two, but now it just bums me out.

I want Brazil to give back Halloween to the USA. It is ours. You have Carnaval, and it lasts for days. We get Halloween. I used to get emails from hysterical Brazilians about how the USA had plans to take over the Amazon or make it into an international territory or something. I am now going to send an email (with appropriate level of hysteria) about how this country is taking over Halloween and making it, well, bad. Oh yes, please address your hate mail to me as Ms. Crabby American. What's mine is mine, what's yours is mine. No, I actually don't want Carnaval or the Amazon either for that matter. 

So, when we arrived here with our kids (aged 18 months) in 2008, we decided that we would put them for a few hours each day in a neighborhood creche or day care.  Ostensibly this was to give them some social interaction (and one son got bit on the very first day, very social) but was really because I was exhausted and going through a minor depression. You twin mothers may be able to understand me. It was a nice little place and I enjoyed all of it except when one of my sons wanted to play dress-up with a blue tu-tu they had there and the caretakers ran over and pretty much ripped it off of him saying it was for girls. He was 20 months old. He liked blue tulle. Who doesn't, really?

About a week before Halloween, a notice came home. The notice read that there would be no Halloween celebrated in school--it was an imported holiday and that it was not allowed in the school. Instead, the school would celebrate Dia do Saci, (Saci Day) a recently created Brazilian holiday (created only to compete with Halloween by the way).  Saci, pronounced "Sah-SEE", is my least favorite Brazilian fairy tale character--he is a one-legged, pipe-smoking trickster.  I remember being somewhat insulted at the time (and amused by the competing holiday) that Halloween was banned because it is imported.

Saci, a character from Monteiro Lobato books. Image source:

Now I am 100% in favor of the ban. No, I'm not saying burn the costumes and anything that looks like a pumpkin. I am saying it is not a Brazilian holiday. If you are not American, or go to an American school, ignore the holiday. Bah Humbug it. Do not, at any costs, attempt to imitate the holiday. 

First, let's take a quick look at Halloween. Halloween is actually All Hallow's Eve. It got shortened up by the marketing guys in 1745. The roots are in Celtic Christianity, but also it coincides with the end of the harvest season (this should set off an alarm for the Brazilians--the harvest season is beginning here not ending. This is why you have Festa Junina, which is an awesome party. No, we don't want it. We have Halloween. Are you actually reading this?). And it's the one night a year that the dead folk come back and hang out with their families. And go trick-or-treating. No, I'm making up the last sentence. Now in Brazil, you have Finados, or Day of the Dead on November 2. That is yours. Dead people: November 2. Check. 

Now at this point I have to mention that of course Halloween did not start in the US. All this dressing up and stuff has the Irish to blame. And Brits. And of course it was their idea to start all the pranking and carving up pumpkins so they look like goblins. Well, of course it was their idea; they are the old world, we are the new world. So, I shall let the British Isles and Ireland keep Halloween. I am feeling generous--after all, they let me keep their language without going all potty or stroppy all the time.

Where was I? Ah yes, okay so the US was late to the Halloween party because the Puritans hated, well, just about everything fun. So it took the party boy Irish and Scots to bring it to us in the 19th century. Thank you very much. Here have a Kit-Kat. (pronounced "kitchy katchy" in Portuguese, see, this is wrong).  

I should also mention Wicca, once upon a time called Witchcraft. I have two friends who are Wiccans and I have to say I don't know much about their religion except there is a Triple Goddess (cool) and a Horned God (slightly less cool). There seems to be a wide range of beliefs in the religion depending on your coven, and what most sticks out to me is that they like to work nude (true story, at least if you read wikipedia) and that their big event of the year is Samhain, or Halloween. My masseuse in Miami was Wiccan--she would disappear for a week every year around now and do whatever it is they do. I try really hard not to ever call anyone a witch if they are behaving badly. Unless of course it is my friend the witch and then I try to really just call her by her first name. Susie. The Wiccan.

Before I go too far off the map, let me tell you what has started my harangue today. On Sunday was the Halloween Party at our club. Not on Halloween, which is October 31 but on Sunday. You know, Brazilians make fun of Americans all the time for celebrating President's Day on the third Monday of the month of January not on the actual day(s). So back at ya, crazies. In fact, many of my friends report that their condo associations and buildings held Halloween last night. Why? I don't know. Maybe to save today for Saci.

Club party announcement

So the club. The party consisted of blacking out a room with dark curtains, having a crazy hair and makeup stand (all the girls wanted to have "princess hair". My son was a pale zombie with scars even though he was wearing a cowboy outfit. Sigh. Zombie Cowboy). Three adults dressed up as a witch, a zombie and a vampire. All children were princesses, zombies or vampires. Or Spiderman, I saw a Spiderman. And of course the Zombie Cowboy. They had a DJ, they played games like holding a balloon between two kids' stomachs then dancing (????) and then we danced gangnam style. When you got tired of all that Halloween-themed stuff, you got a little take-home cardboard box  (orange with a bat, very nice) filled with the same candy as we get here every day. I was seriously depressed when I left there. 

Let me explain something here. Here is how I celebrated Halloween from ages 3-12. I would dress up in a costume made by my extremely talented mother (the talent skipped at least one generation--mine). My costume was Martha Washington one year--my older brother was Benedict Arnold. I realize some of you have no idea who I am talking about. Historical figures. Awesome costumes. In those dark ages, most mommies made costumes. But even now, the range of American costumes is unbelievable--I am talking the store bought ones. Huge fluffy dinosaurs, tigers, Ninjas (of course), the usual superheroes, Rihanna, you name it.  It would blow Brazilian minds. Completely. Here your costume must BE something; you cannot invent something. One of my sons was "Super Passarinho" or "Super Little Bird" one year by tying a colorful scarf around his arms and leaping about. He was roundly scorned. Anyway...

So after the costume, comes the trick-or-treating. I would head out the door with a few of my little friends while being escorted by several of the moms or dads. The moms and dads would stop at the end of the driveway of a house, we would walk up and knock on the door, or ring the bell. The person inside would say "Happy Halloween!" and might even be dressed up too. The house would be decorated with jack o'lanterns and paper witches and spooky music would be playing. We would say "Trick or Treat!" and then the person might ask us who we were supposed to be or how old we were or whatever. In my first neighborhood in New York, they wouldn't even ask--we all knew each other. We only trick-or-treated with the neighbors we knew--about 25 houses. Yeah, there was one scary house that we always avoided, I'm not sure why, and the rumor was they put razor blades in the apples they handed out. I think the greater problem was that they handed out apples. Who wants an apple on Halloween? Hello?

And we would get candy for our pillowcase bag (I never had the fancy plastic pumpkin) and pennies for our Unicef boxes (yes, charity at work in the USA) and we would call "thank you" and we would go back to the street with our parents and on to the next house. It is an incredibly social event--starting an hour before sunset for the littlest kids, up to around 9 pm for the older kids, there are groups of people circulating on the streets, talking and laughing and calling Happy Halloween. Sure, there are the occasional teenagers who are out to cause problems like smashing mailboxes or pumpkins, or toilet papering trees but in general, a nice suburban Halloween is AWESOME. I will now pause to quietly cry in my coffee--how I miss it. 

Anyway, this is not what happens here in Brazil. No. Here is Brazil the adults dress up in dresses that are too short (trust me, I have seen the costume shops and had to even rent a costume once. The most decent one was Kill Bill's yellow suit so I pretty much hacked my way through one party) or in superhero lycra that leaves little to the imagination.  It is an excuse to drink too much and act badly. While wearing a tiny skirt with no bodice. I imagine my friend Willy is liking that description.

The kids, ah the kids. Well, pull out the princess dresses and superhero clothes. You've paid almost $80 for that lycra so might as well. They don't trick or treat here. Heck, I know only two of my neighbors. They're very nice but they might arrest us if we show up looking for candy. The candy is nothing special--no candy corn, no Smarties, no tiny candy bars. Here are some of the experiences my expat friends have had here:
"We received an e-mail from our condo at 4pm that said if you wanted to participate in Halloween that you were to meet downstairs at 6pm (2 hour notice to go out and get candy, or get your kids dressed up?!). My kids stayed in to hand out candy (thank goodness we had some!) and when about 15 kids all came to our door, they said NOTHING! When I prompted them as to what to say (i.e. Trick or Treat), they looked at me with blank stares. Some mumbled Candy Halloween."
" I just argued with my six year old bc his teacher told him he couldn't use the costume he picked out (and I already paid for) bc it isn't scary enough. What?!? He's six... They seem to think it has to be a witch, vampire, ghost or nothing at all."
Now, let me be fair here. I can only imagine how badly an American would screw up a Carnaval party. Or a Festa Junina. They are not ours. We can't do it. But I will have to give you my exception to my "Ban Halloween in Brazil" protest that I am planning to schedule for tomorrow.  If you are an American in Brazil, or married to one, AND have imported at least 50% of the candy being given out at your party AND you make the kids say Trick or Treat, you may have your Halloween Party in Brazil. Save some candy corn for me.
I suggest we create identification cards for Americans that say "Licensed for Halloween." Otherwise, you must stick to Dia do Saci, Carnaval, Festa Junina or New Year's celebrations, all of which kick American butt (okay, except the former--Dia do Saci? Really?) Or if you must do something special today, do what I do. I set up my kid's dentist appointment for today, October 31, at 5:30 pm. I am a mean mommy. A witch, but not in the real sense. A Triple Goddess. Or you could go rally against our mayor, Haddad (pronounced "Ah-DAH-Gee") who is being demonized today as Maldadd (pronounced "Mahl-DAH-Gee", meaning "evil") for upping our property taxes.
And finally, I am adding a small view of how Brazil is not qualified to hold Halloween (from Santa Luzia supermarket, definitely geared to ex-pats):
 Example one: mini-pumpkins
Photo credit to my friend Katie

Let's mini-pumpkins for R$61 (US$27). Moving on to the big pumpkins:

Photo credit to Katie, again

 Oooh,, this one looks American! I can carve this...yeah, let me look at the price...


Gulp! That is R$121 for a pumpkin. US$55. I think we know the winner of the eternal debate of trick or treat...
Relax, rant over. Request still there. Give it back. And yes, I am planning to be in the US for next Halloween so you can feel free to tell me to just go home.


  1. I just loved your rant!! I´m used to hear brazilians complaining about Halloween being imported to Brazil but this is the first time I hear an american complaining about brazilians celebrating Halloween.

    1. Thank you, Renato!! I had fun writing it. I realize how hard it is to translate one cultural icon into a new place...and Halloween has definitely gotten lost in translation. I admit I do still go to Thanksgiving dinner at an American friend's house here and that works out okay. They make a mean turkey!

  2. i enjoyed this- halloween is probably my favorite holiday. i don't have a child, and adults don't celebrate it here in BH. i used to think, i'd prefer a lame brazilian halloween for kids to nothing at all, but now I'm not sure!

    1. Yeah, I have half a mind (full stop there). No, I have half a mind to say that Halloween is prohibited for anyone over the age of 18 as well. I'm getting kind of restrictive and intolerant in my dotage... And yes, I vote for nothing at all rather than laming up my second favorite holiday (Thanksgiving still wins).

  3. As your self-appointed editor, all I can say is TL;DR. :)

    You missed a trick here by not breaking it up into a multi-part series like the one you did on street safety.

    1. Yeah, my husband nearly gave up on this one. He said that I really did need to shut up, so I think I like your commentary better. Hard to break up a good rant. But I am trying to keep things down to size now...