Originally Published October 27th, 2021
It’s that time of the year again. The time where one random French company starts hawking pre-packaged pumpkins at the grocery stores around where I live. They’re stacked in the produce section in black cardboard boxes adorned with the typical potpourri of cartoonish monsters, smirking witches, and happy bats.
They’re running the only gourd game in town so we don’t have much of a choice. I grab three and toss them in a backpack. It’s not exactly a tough march home, they’re pretty small being much closer in size to a softball than a bowling ball. But, again, they’ve cornered the market on pumpkinry so I’m happy to find anything at all.
Halloween, as with any easily commercializable holiday, is starting to get a foothold in Spain. My inbox has a few marketing e-mails from local businesses with coupon codes in orange and black text. The local bakery whipped up black cat and pumpkin cookies. A store window or two have some cobwebs surrounding a generic SALE sign. There are euros up for grabs and it makes for a hollow All Hallows’ Eve.
Around town, not a single house or apartment is sporting any orange lights with nary a window cling to be found. While you may be able to scout some paper ghosts, there is a complete dearth of inflatable lawn decor.
However, there is hope. The younger generation seems to dig it. How could they not? To steal a bit from the inimitable Jerry Seinfeld: “The first time you hear the concept of Halloween when you’re a kid, your brain can’t even process the information. What did you say about giving out candy? Who is giving out candy? EVERYONE THAT WE KNOW IS JUST GIVING OUT CANDY?!”
Getting dressed up in a costume and wandering around with your friends is nothing new here but it is normally done just before Lent during Carnival. It lasts an entire week. There are parades, street vendors, and carnival rides. Kids dress up for class and also get somewhere between two days and a week off of school. Costume competitions and nightlife are available for the adults. It’s a big deal.
I didn’t think this was celebrated in the US until I found the Mardi Gras connection. Roughly the same thing, different name. Carnival has now served as my knock-off Halloween experience for years.
The actual door-to-door trick-or-treating part is slower to ramp up but there are now more buildings with signs welcoming Halloween visits. We’ve even received an e-mail from our school encouraging participation so students have more places to go. The kids are making it happen.
Comparing today to 2004, Europe has come a long ways. There was no talk of Halloween back then. It was “an American thing” that was mostly frowned upon. One distinct exception to this was a Halloween party I attended in Germany in 2007. There was even a rule that you had to make your own costume. These were my people and it was a blast.
Still, Halloween remains a discount holiday experience for grown-ups in Europe. No haunted houses. No scary surprises on the neighbor’s porch as you shuffle to their front door. No Monster Mash. No nostalgic Garfield or Peanuts specials. But most disappointingly, no social acceptance of me in full Jor-El attire gassing up the family SUV.