Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thoughts on Halloween

Don't google 'mummy' to show your four year old what a mummy is! And, just, DON’T EVEN GO into the whole Ancient-Egyptians-death-Pharoahs-Museums...MISTAKE! MISTAKE!

When I sat down to type this post I thought to myself: it's the candy. And then I thought, No, the commercialism. Or the question of appropriate costumes, costumes for younger kids, costumes for older kids complete with weapons and masks, costumes for children of different genders. Or the explaining of skeletons and mummies and ghosts and spiders and spider webs as ornamentation of the front lawn. Or the very confusing issue (for younger kids) of SCARY IS FUN!

Or it's the embedded (American) cultural meanings of Halloween.

Where to begin?

Our Halloween was fun!

[photo removed]

A statement which in no way accounts for narrowing down the sheer number of costume ideas Noah came up with this year, or the fact that he didn't even wear the costume he finally chose for trick-or-treating. (That's okay, I was prepared for that one. I think mostly Grandma, who wanted a photo of Noah-as-Front-Loader will be disappointed.) We fussed over candy and all those questions like how much to buy and what kind to buy and all the various permutation of who eats what and what to give the babies who come by and what to give adults who think they get candy from the trick-or-treat bowl just like with their kids and what’s sugar-free and what’s gluten-free and after all of that: I was so pleased to see that PLAYDOUGH was the biggest hit - if I let the kids pick their own treat - which I didn’t always - because then I would have been out of playdough.

Hey, you know what? If playdough is IT - I could make that myself. And if nobody is eating it, it’s okay if it’s homemade, don’t you think? Do you think it will still be popular next year? Or am I too late to the trend? I already hit the store, thinking I could stock up on the After-Halloween-Sales-Playdough for next year - saving myself both time and money. Totally sold out, so I know I’m not the only one thinking about playdough. This probably indicates I’m late to the game.

That’s the first level of Halloween (Fun).

At our house, we also have a whole second level of cultural difference that becomes very obvious at Halloween.

Let’s start with an honest reveal: the boys don’t watch American television or movies anymore. The only movie that Noah has ever seen is Toy Story. And he didn’t like it. Even after he had watched it three times so that he knew there was a happy ending, he cried through 75% of it. And then he asked not to watch it again.

“Okay,” we said.

We also don’t have a lot of commercialized books or toys and, well, I tend to keep the boys pretty close. So when it comes to contemporary American cultural knowledge, we’re in the dark. All four of us.

That makes Halloween kind of tough. We don’t recognize a lot of costumes. We don’t think of super heros or villains or even general popular characters for our costumes. We come up with ideas like: “I can be a Front Loader for Halloween!”

[photo removed]

Part of me feels it is my duty as a parent to expose the boys to American Commercial Culture. (Thus, watching Toy Story three times, crying be damned!) But lately I've come to realize that in leiu of my American parental duty, I've substituted. Instead of American Commercialized Culture, we fill in the boys’ life a hefty amount of German culture: everything from speaking two languages, to participating in German specific traditions, to watching German children’s television (aka German commercialized culture).

This is not really a statement about what is better, it's more about what is possible for us and how can we best balance out our exposure. Between living in one country and detailed learning about another, it’s enough, you know? I’m not sure we could do more. It also underlines a possible reality for us: we don’t want to move again for a long time, but Fritz and I DO want to keep open the door on going back to Germany.

Germans celebrate Halloween lightly. And by that I mean, there isn’t a culture of candy and costumes and trick-or-treating. It exists a little bit, but mostly as an odd American import. Some of the Germans I knew in Munich actually did the whole trick-or-treating bit. But most, like my mother-in-law, found it highly improper. Asking neighbors for candy while dressed in a scary costume? No, thank you! Around Halloween, Germans are buying wreaths to decorate graves for Allerheiligen (All Saints Day), or making lanterns for St. Martins Day, or starting to prepare a feast of goose, dumplings and red cabbage.

If you think about the trick-or-treating bit, it is a little odd. Last night, I sent Fritz out with the boys to do the trick-or-treating. After they left, it occurred to me that it might have been a mistake. Fritz’s experience with trick-or-treating is primarily as a homeowner's roommate handing out candy during grad school. Did he know proper trick-or-treat manners? What would he teach the boys?

All of these thoughts swirl around in my head at Halloween. I might seem to have more fun if I just ignored them, but the truth is, I like to think about them. It makes me feel a little freer to be different AND to be comfortable with being different. I do hope the boys feel the same way.


Pregnantly Plump said...

I love the front end loader! Very cool. We didn't even really trick or treat. I must put the boys to bed way too early for others. I ended up leaving our candy on the front stoop. I'm thinking less than 5 people came by. People are more into Trunk or Treats and things like that around here.

Katie (Mama May I) said...

On one hand, I love Halloween! Love the imaginative quality (although there was nothing imaginative about T's store bought costume this year), love that it's the beginning of the "holidays", love The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and watching it with my boys now.
I'm not terribly crazy about the littles getting the amount of candy they did, but I also don't make a big deal of it and find they don't care about it/want it as much this way. We let them go crazy on Halloween night with the candy (no mama flare for me), picked through it after they went to bed and tossed everything we'd never let them have (gummy ears made in china),etc. Now they each have about six pieces each and can have one a day until it's gone. (I ate the rest in case you were wondering. Kidding! I only ate most of it.)

American commercialism stinks. I've mentioned before to you what we're going through around our woods these days with other kiddos. But even without that unwanted influence, a toy catalog comes in the mail and T might as well just put his voice on repeat "I want...." I'm still working on that one. I recall very well being a kiddo, leafing through all 500 pages of the Sears catalog in a frenzy of wanting.

Great post! Lots of thinking to do...

ps..the front-loader rocks! :)