I MOVED TO ARGENTINE PATAGONIA HELL BENT on leaving every trace of American culture far, far behind me. Then my first Halloween rolled around and I suddenly wanted nothing more in life than a face covered in glitter and a pile of (stolen from my kids’ stash after they go to bed) Reese’s peanut butter cups.
One problem. Halloween is not really a thing down here, so I took it upon myself to single-handedly bring it to rural Patagonia. I invited all of my neighbors — which meant the nearest six Mapuche Indians and their kids who were kind enough to humor me. I passed out face paints and funny hats to people who understandably did not have a fucking clue what was going on. I had ‘Monster Mash’ and ‘Thriller’ blaring as I passed out pumpkin-shaped cookies. It was awkward. Things got even more awkward as us adults realized that, without notifying us, my excited young kiddos led their kiddos in a herd to try out trick-or-treating. Minor detail: the nearest house was two kilometers away in either direction through the forest and we had no clue what direction they went. So we had a pack of costumed kiddos roaming the Andes, showing up on doorsteps demanding food. To her credit, the one confused lady whose house they ended up at did make them whole wheat pancakes with dulce de leche on the spot. My American kids were not entirely thrilled with that score.
While it may not have been the world’s best debut, the next year I decided to be more proactive. The morning of Halloween, I delivered bags of candy to the nearest neighbors and let them know that my kids would be showing up in the evening, dressed funny, and when they yelled something in English to please just smile and hand them the bag of candy. To not overthink or question the matter. It was far from spontaneous, and not exactly how it used to go in suburban Michigan. Case in point: one neighbor, bless his heart, trying to get on the festive bandwagon handed me an elaborately-wrapped package topped with bows and ribbons like it was Christmas. It contained four bottles of microbrew and 3 ounces of homegrown weed. He yelled ‘Happy Halloweennnnn!’ at me as one might yell out ‘Happy New Year’. Y….bueno…
I’m still not giving up on this holiday here. And you know why? Because Halloween is one part of the culture from the states that I think is completely worthwhile to hang onto for dear life. For one day of the year, gringos stop taking themselves so damn seriously. Normally uptight adults do their errands in cat ears and a tail. The lady in the next cubicle who looks like she hasn’t gotten any action in the last decade is now sporting heels and a sequined bustier. The scrawny neighbor is rocking a Superman cape and vibe, if for just a few hours. It’s absurd, it’s nonsensical and it’s fun. The world is definitely in lacking conscious creations of absurdity, nonsense and fun.
Halloween for me is not just another Hallmark holiday. For me, it’s darn near sacred. It’s one day of the year where people of all ages are not just allowed, but encouraged, to dream, create, play, be silly…and indulge in chocolate. And that is a celebration I’m not going to throw by the wayside, no matter where in the world I happen to live.
Update: For this year, I met three WWOOFER volunteers from Massachusetts who are working up the mountain. They have no access to costumes or even a store, but they do have ratty flannel shirts with them, so they’re creating fairly pathetic ‘90s grunge band’ costumes. We’re having a bonfire and telling scary stories in Spanish to any curious neighbor we can beg to show up. We’re offering whiskey-laden hot chocolate as incentive. We’re taking over. If Halloween becomes a hit down here, you know where it all began.