At Zona Refrescante restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador, every afternoon on Thursday, Ecuadorians meet with native English speakers to practice speaking English. It´s fun, and it´s a way for people from both cultures to inquire about strange customs they don´t understand.
This bright middle school age student had a question for me this past Thursday about Halloween. I pause to interject. This girl of about 14 years never lived in any English speaking country. She learned what she knows not only because eight hours of English per week is a requirement at her school, but also because as she explained, English is her favorite subject! She speaks it well and has decently good pronunciation, and she impressed me.
But all that above about her is beside the point.
This girl, an obviously curious expression on her face, was asking me to explain Halloween. I tried but felt flabbergasted. I didn´t have an answer satisfactory to me.
Halloween as it´s known in North America doesn´t exist in Ecuador. The custom most akin to Halloween in Ecuador is called the day of the dead, I´d say, but this tradition is so different from Halloween that in fact the connection is most imprecise. Ecuadorians visit the remains of lost loved ones at their tombs in graveyards on the day of the dead. They place flowers and cards with messages on the tombstones, and eat food and drink a special drink called colada morada. It´s a time to pray for the dead and a time to communicate with the dead.
This to me is its, granted, unsteady similarity to Halloween. But take a look at one of the most popular Halloween costumes---the costume of a skeleton. Somehow in some way Halloween has something to do with death. And death is scary. Look at the costumes kids wear on Halloween--- ghosts, goblins, monsters, witches, pirates and devils---all scary, all evocative of frightening manifestations that would scare you to death if not make believe. So what IS the point of Halloween? Is it just to have fun going around to houses in the neighborhood carrying a bag to collect candy? Get real--- that´s the biggest part of the point. But I think Halloween has a deeper meaning, which I wouldn´t be thinking about if it hadn´t been for that Ecuadorian girl´s question.
In my mind the Halloween costume represents the dark side of human nature. It´s the side we ordinarily hide but that we bring out into the open in pantomime on Halloween. We proclaim there is this evil side to us that is like a monster or a demon. We say yes on Halloween, yes we are part bad and yes this part of us exists.
The beauty about Halloween as every kid in North America will attest is the collection of big bags of candy. Maybe this is symbolic as well. Is this a representation that evil spirits can be bought off? After all, the ghosts and goblins leave the house once their bags get filled with candy.