Friday, October 30, 2009

My First American Halloween

We were newly weds living in Morgan Hill.  Helene Lane is a very quiet street.  People there didn't seem to get out of their houses and if they did they didn't talk.  Our house backs onto an old golf course with an open view of the hills and mountains.  The backyard was always a better place to go than the front yard where only closed garage doors are the views.  The only people who came to our house were those we invited or those who said they would come.  The times were even specified.  I was surprised when people we knew asked if they could stop by. Where I came from in the Philippines, mother-in-laws or anybody for that matter just come.  That is the setting of my first American Halloween story - a place where unexpected-guests are unexpected.

It was October 30, 1991 at seven o'clock, Tim and I were in our sweats because we kept our house cold, sitting in the living room after we had dinner.  Suddenly, in the middle of whatever we were talking about, the door bell rings.  My first reaction was to go to the door and find out who it was.  However, Tim's was different.  He joined me as I walked towards the direction of the door but then he staggered and exclaimed, "Oh, no!  It's Halloween!"  "So what if it's Halloween!  Let's open the door!"  "No!"  "Why not?"  By this time Tim is whispering because we were very close to the door.  "They want candies."  "We have some candies in the cupboard."  "No, we don't have any, because we forgot to buy."  "Believe me, we have some candies!"  I shifted my direction, now I'm going towards the cupboard. "They don't like those candies."   "Let's give them money then."  "No. You don't understand".  He turned the lights off.  The bell rang one more time, and another time.  Then we heard footsteps of people leaving.  Tim had a big sigh of relief.

Halloween in the Philippines is called "All Souls' Day" (October 31st).  It is the day before "All Saints' Day" November 1st).  As a kid, I was told that these are the days when the living-ones remember their dead.  They show this by going to the cemetery and cleaning around their graves, painting the tombs.   I always worried about stepping on someone's grave.  People bring flowers (that they pick along the way, not from stores) to the cemetery.  They light candles and leave them by the grave.  In their homes people prepare some food (rice delicacies) and offer them to the souls of their dead who are presumably visiting during that time.  This was really scary for me because my grandmother told me that if I ate or just tasted the food before she has served the "dead's portion", then my mouth will get distorted and will stay that way for the rest of my life.  I remember that during that night of All Souls' Day the dogs howl at night and I tell you it is a lot scarier than all the Halloween decorations and costumes that people wear here. 

There is no trick-or-treating in the Philippines. There is one thing that people in the neighboring town of Ballesteros did and maybe still do.  They would trick people by moving people's stuff to the front yard.  I remember seeing frying pans, laundry basins, and shirts hanging on fences along the road.  That is the extent of tricks that I knew.  Giving out candies on Halloween never occurred to me before.  Christmas time however is different - kids go caroling and you, whom they've come to sing carols to, are expected to give them money or suman, patupat, or tinupig (these are all different kinds of rice sweets).  By now you should understand why I suggested that Tim and I should give money to the trick-or-treaters in Morgan Hill. 

Every time I remember my first Halloween in America, I still can't help but laugh.  Philippine Halloween tradition is loaded with superstitions with emphasis on the dead.  American Halloween is one of the many commercialized holidays.  Costumes and candies don't have any particular emphasis.  I thought that they are supposed to be scary but that is also wrong.  I think it's a masquerade coupled with a permission to acquire large quantities of candies.

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