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BY JENNIFER MALIA

How 9 Expat Moms Celebrate (or Avoid) Halloween Abroad
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Though widely known as an American tradition, Halloween has been adopted by other countries around the world. In many countries, trick-or-treating, costume parties, and spooky decorations have become popular ways of celebrating Halloween. I talked to expat moms around the globe and asked them what Halloween traditions they do (or don’t do) when living abroad. Their stories take place in countries as diverse as England, Sweden, the Netherlands, South Africa, Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates. Whether you are an expat family that celebrates Halloween abroad, a family that travels for the holiday, or a family that celebrates Halloween in the US, their stories are sure to entertain you, and might even frighten you in a G-rated sort of way.

How 9 Expat Moms Celebrate (or Avoid) Halloween Abroad
Courtesy of Kristy Smith

Kristy Smith, The Midwestern Repatriate

“I’m American, and my husband is British. We spent many years in the UK celebrating Halloween, which seems more like an addition to the local village harvest festivals than a separately adopted tradition. Some kids trick-or-treated, but they were usually hesitant about it. They’d come to my door and just stand there politely waiting for their candy. I’d try in vain to get them to shout trick-or-treat at me. One Halloween I wasn’t around to hand out candy. I was scheduled to be induced that day because I was six days past due with my daughter. On October 29th, my then three-old-year son and I were carving pumpkins and putting together costumes. My son wanted to be Batman that year, and I had the perfect kitchen towel for his cape. I worked my mom magic by attaching a string and drawing the bat outline. I was just setting in for a stint of coloring when things began to happen. We ended up driving down dark country lanes to the hospital, but she decided not to come that night after all. They kept me in the hospital and induced me the next day. Born on October 30th, my daughter will always be my Halloween girl.”

 

How 9 Expat Moms Celebrate (or Avoid) Halloween Abroad
Courtesy of Debi Beaumont

Debi Beaumont, An Alphabet of Africa

“Halloween is great fun where I live in South Africa. We live in a gated estate. It’s like a village surrounded by high walls, electric fences, and armed guards, basically to keep the baddies of Johannesburg out and the families inside safe. Because there is a golf course in the estate, many people get around on golf buggies. On Halloween, people decorate their golf buggies and children are taxied on them around the estate to participating houses. If you want to receive children you decorate the front of your house to show you welcome trick-or-treaters.”

 

How 9 Expat Moms Celebrate (or Avoid) Halloween Abroad
Courtesy of Lisa Ferland

Lisa Ferland, Knocked Up Abroad

“As the Americans in our Swedish neighborhood, all of the neighbors look to us to lead Halloween celebrations. The pressure is on us! The candy we use for trick-or-treating is loose candy, like jelly beans and jelly skulls, rarely is it wrapped like we see in the US. After trick-or-treating, we go on a ‘spooky walk,’ where the kids walk with adults carrying flashlights. We often go past some scary decorations that are motion-censored like a witch cackling or a ghost howling. Then, a parent usually helps pull a ghostly figure up and down a tree on a pulley. At the end of the spooky walk, the kids grab a bag of candy treats from a cauldron. A Halloween-themed movie follows at someone’s house, so the kids can sit around and eat their candy and popcorn. The costumes in Sweden are normally scary and gruesome, not cute at all. My kids were the only Hulk and Pippi on the block. The kids love using it as a way to really scare each other. All of this in a country that doesn’t celebrate Halloween! It’s always a bit nerve wracking when we send the kids out to trick-or-treat because you never know who is celebrating this new Halloween tradition and who is offended by it.”

 

Rosemary Gillan Griffith-Jones, Write. Said Rose

“Being Australian, our family doesn’t celebrate Halloween. So when we were living at the Hyatt Regency in Dubai, our kids were surprised to find scores of kids running down the corridor trick-or-treating for the holiday. Exasperated, my six-year-old son posted a large note on our door that said, ‘No Halloween celebrated in THIS house. Go away!’ Of course, he spelled it all wrong, but I remember the kids screeching to a halt outside our door and attempting to decipher the sign by reading it very loudly. Then, they knocked anyway.”

 

Amanda van Mulligen, Expat Life With A Double Buggy

“Halloween is growing in popularity every year in the Netherlands. Sixteen years ago, when I arrived from England on Dutch shores, no one seemed interested in Halloween in the Netherlands. Now you can find Halloween goodies in stores, and you might even come across a house with spooky decorations toward the end of October. A few years ago, my neighborhood started organizing trick-or-treating for kids. Our school even plans a neighborhood walk with lamps the kids make in class. Along the way, there are ghosts and ghouls that surprise the children, and of course give them treats.”

 

How 9 Expat Moms Celebrate (or Avoid) Halloween Abroad
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Clara Wiggins, The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

“We are a British family living in South Africa. Every year our school runs an event called Boo in the Boot where people decorate the boots in their cars and give out sweets to trick-or-treating children. It’s an American international school so many of the families are American and want to celebrate Halloween. However, it’s too dangerous to trick-or-treat around the streets unless you live on a compound in Pretoria. The school event is held in a secured car park, making it safe for children to participate.”

 

Brynn Barineau, Brynn in Brazil

“Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in Brazil, but thanks to globalization, adults celebrate the holiday with costume parties. English teachers around the country also throw Halloween parties for their students. Trick-or-treating is not part of the adopted tradition in Brazil, just dressing up in costumes and attending parties. I threw a Halloween party for fifteen preschoolers last year, and the Brazilian parents were very enthusiastic, calling me a muito animada, a fun-loving party-throwing person. One mom even came up to me and told me how she’d always dreamed of going to a real Halloween party. Talk about responsibility. This party taught me that I am NOT a good hostess or a creative, crafty mom. The behind-the-scenes prep was a very stressful cookie baking odyssey. I will be letting some other parent volunteers throw a Halloween party next time.”

 

Olga Mecking, The European Mama

“One day, I was home in the evening when someone rang my doorbell. I opened up my door to a bunch of monsters. Because I was sleep-deprived and not in my right mind, I didn’t know what they wanted. I thought they wanted to sell me candy, so I gave them money, and they gave me candy. Only later did I realize that they were trick-or-treating, and I should have given them treats. Even though I’m Polish, I had heard of Halloween. I didn’t know, though, exactly how it works, so, hence, my faux pas. What shocked me even more was that this happened in the Netherlands, not the US!”

How 9 Expat Moms Celebrate (or Avoid) Halloween Abroad
Courtesy of Jennifer Malia

 

Jennifer Malia, Munchkin Treks

“When I was an American expat living in Dubai, my family was disappointed that we couldn’t find any candy corn there. On a visit to the US, we would stash pounds of it in our suitcases on the return flight to Dubai and save it for Halloween (most of it, anyway). Shortly before Halloween one year, I was walking around the Dubai Mall at three months pregnant with my first child.  Even though this mall has over 1200 shops with brands from around the world, I was surprised to find a lot of costumes and decorations for Halloween in the Middle East. Looking at the kids’ costumes at the Disney Store, I thought, if I had a boy, he could be Woody, or if I had a girl, she could be Jessie, or maybe even Rapunzel, for his or her first Halloween. At the time, I was a professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, where I lived on campus with other faculty who came from countries all over the world. I celebrated Halloween that year at a party with my colleagues who didn’t know about my pregnancy. I decided that my costume would serve as my announcement that I was expecting. I drew a black-on-yellow diamond-shaped sign on my stomach that said, ‘Baby on Board.’ Most of my colleagues got the announcement, but some told me later that they thought it was just a costume.”

 

Jennifer Malia Jennifer Malia, PhD, is a professor, writer, and global nomad who has traveled to more than twenty countries to study world languages, teach English as a second language, and present research on world literature. She and her husband are the Founders of Munchkin Treks, a new family travel website where they will share their adventure travels with three munchkins in tow. In her free time, she practices yoga and Taekwondo and explores the beaches and hiking trails around Virginia Beach with her family. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram, and Pinterest.

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11 Comments

  • I taught English in Asia for many years and we always held these elaborate parties for the kids. They called it introducing them to western culture, although in reality it was more specifically American culture.
    I do sympathise with the woman who didn’t know what to do with the trick or treaters. If you don’t have kids and it’s not your holiday you don’t keep sweets in the house or decorate it it’s hard to know what to do when hoards of children start appearing at the door.

  • I loved the article and the point of view you decided to write it from. I was very curious when I read the title and it didn’t disappointed me.
    It’s cool to see the differences between countries regarding the same fest. Although I’m not a mum (yet 🙂 I can give you pint of view as an spanish citizen.. and that is that we start celebrating it now somehow. We don’t have these trick&treat deals or sweet things, but +18 youngsters do dress up and party as any other weekend. Conclusion, I think is another and new discotheques mkt campaign to attract people by decorating it and offering discounts and drinking competitions to best-well-dressed.

    Congrats again, I was very original!

  • Great stories, I live in the UK and it’s only really celebrated by kids. I have only been to Halloween parties or dressed up when I was a kid. I think it’s becoming more popular as we see the fun the american’s are having but still it’s more for the kids 🙂

  • Where I came from, Halloween is not really celebrated the way our Western counterparts do – until recently. But Philippines has started catching up, but kids can only trick or treat at mall or private events. Not really going from house to house and all that. Same here in Germany, it’s just starting to be accepted somewhat! But!! I’m carving my pumpkin tomorrow and put it out of on my doorstep! Haha

  • Very timely post! It’s Haloween morning and I’m just about to head to work so I will most likely miss most of the trick or treaters that knock on the door this afternoon. Lovely to read the stories is Haloween around the world as we don’t really celebrate in Australia. I love that the kids knocked anyway despite the misspelled sign on the door lol

  • I find it very interesting that Halloween is becoming more and more popular in other countries while it’s seeing a lot less interest where it all started – at least that’s the impression I get in my area (I live in Montreal).

  • It was so funny to read your article and everyone’s stories. I am an expat myself, but not a mom. While in my home country the Halloween is not a big deal, in my adopted one, on the 31st of October all you can see if you go outside are zombies and devils and cat womans. It’s so much fun!

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