It was a dark and windy night. One of our students invited us to an English Corner. When we got there, we found that the night’s featured activity was a lecture on Halloween by an American professor we didn’t know. Aside from me and Josh, she and her family were the only non-Chinese in the room. The lecture started out fine, but it got spookier and spookier as it went on.
I will try to recapture what the professor said:
Thank you for inviting me to talk to you about Halloween. I have a jack-o-lantern here. This is actually the first time in my adult life that I have carved a jack-o-lantern, and it was kind of difficult to do it with such a small pumpkin.
At this point, I had my first clue that something was wrong. The lecturer was there with her husband and teenage daughter. How could an American have a child that age and not have any experience carving jack-o-lanterns?
Halloween began in the country now known as England. The people who lived there were called the Celts. They believed that October 30th was the last day of the year and November 1st was the first day of the year. October 31st didn’t belong to any year, and that was the day that the worlds of the living and the dead were closest to each other. The Celts would light lanterns to guide the souls of the recently departed into the world of the dead.
When the Catholic Church arrived in England, it absorbed the pagan holiday in order to win more converts. That was how the ancient holiday became Halloween.
I won’t bother to fact check any of this. There are a few obvious holes in the story, but that is okay. It is a credible enough explanation for the purpose of a very informal lecture. She continued:
Halloween wasn’t a popular holiday in America until the 1930′s. At that time, young men and boys began marking the holiday by roaming the streets in gangs and throwing eggs and toilet paper at houses. Eventually, the destruction on Halloween became too severe. People tried to protect themselves by giving out apples and other treats to the roving bands, in order to avoid the eggs.
This is where the lecturer really started to lose her credibility. I saw “Meet Me in St. Louis” and I know that kids have been dressing up like ghosts on October 31st since at least 1903.
When I was little I used to trick-or-treat at the houses in my neighborhood, and the adults would always pretend not to know who I was. ‘Who is this little ghost?’ they would say, even though they really knew it was me. When I got older, I was the one who stayed home to hand out candy, and I tried to do the same thing. I would also ask the children if they had any tricks. If they couldn’t think of some trick, then NO CANDY.
There were a few moms like this in my neighborhood. They always caved in the end.
Now people ask me what I do for Halloween, and to tell the truth, I hide. Because where I live in America, in the Rio Grande Valley, we are very close to another country. Who knows what that other country is? That’s right, it’s Mexico. Well, on Halloween, people from Mexico drive over the border in trucks filled with dozens of children. I’m not kidding, I have seen it! Not the kind of pickup trucks you have here. These trucks are the kind you see hauling dirt up to the mountain behind campus. One parent will cross over with as many as thirty kids in a flat-bed truck and drop the kids off to go trick-or-treating in my neighborhood. Once I tried to give candy to them, and there were just too many. We must have given out two-hundred pieces of candy that year. So now, when Halloween comes, we turn out the lights and pretend we aren’t home.
Call in the Minutemen! Illegal immigrants are stealing our candy!
For some people in America, Halloween is a very important religious holiday. Those people are Satanists. They worship Satan. Sometimes they sacrifice animals, like cats. Some people say they sacrifice human beings, but I don’t know if that is true or not.
Other people say that we shouldn’t celebrate Halloween because it is evil, and to be honest, that’s what I think, too.
This professor was actually telling a room full of Chinese college students that Halloween is the evil holiday when some Americans sacrifice cats!
At this point, I thought it would be appropriate to raise my hand and mention trick-or-treating for UNICEF. She explained to the class that some people collected coins for UNICEF (and other groups), especially in the “North”. She had me pegged.
There aren’t many traditional foods for Halloween, aside from the candy. Some people like to drink apple cider that has gone rotten. Well, not rotten exactly, but it has been sitting around too long and it has become alcoholic.
How do you talk to a person who describes hard cider as “rotten”? What do you say to a woman who believes that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was ruining Halloween with a dumptruck full of Mexican children?
I tried “Hello”. That went a long way. After her lecture, we had a very pleasant conversation about her family. She was really very nice. When you’re this far from home, it’s amazing how much you can find that you have in common with someone.