Halloween (y/n)

So it’s Halloween tonight. Celtic holiday, sort of, taken over by the Anglo-Saxons, sort of, and then transported to North America and refined into a truly weird combination of costumes, scary, and sugar.

I’m a transplanted American living in Germany, and I’ve found that Halloween is just catching on here. Apparently nobody knew about it a generation ago — it was a weird thing the Americans did on their bases — but now at least some people are putting up jack o’lanterns and handing out candy. (Fewer jack o’lanterns. American pumpkins have been bred for soft shells and easy carving. Germans, not yet. Carving a German pumpkin is more carpentry than art.) There’s nothing like the tsunami of commercial decorations, costumes, and high fructose corn syrup that seizes America in the last days of October, but people know about it and children want to do it.

Normally I’d roll my eyes at this: another American commercial tradition colonizing the poor old continent, like raccoons invading the Black Forest. But Halloween is a sort of cool holiday. It makes no sense, but it’s fun. Fun is good.

So, my question, European readers: where else in Europe is this holiday taking hold? Are there small children going door to door in Hungary? Costume parties in Portugal? Black-cat paper cutouts in the windows in Finland?

Who’s got Halloween tonight?

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture and tagged , by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

21 thoughts on “Halloween (y/n)

  1. My father, proud member of the Numantine Defense Group, complains that in Spain, schools are organizing costume parties. So it will be mainstream there in one generation.

    I am writing dressed up as Robin Hood in an Illinois cubicle…

  2. In the UK Halloween has implanted itself mostly in the last 10 years, forcing out our native Bonfire Night which, due to its proximity to Halloween, has disappeared due to the need for middle class children to stuff their faces with yet more sugared goo.

    Apparently ET is mostly responsible for the rise of Halloween in the UK.

  3. In Sweden, after a certain peak of interest in the years just before and just after the new millennium, the holiday seems to have become more or less background noise, not quite able to stand out as a holiday in its own right in the manner of Christmas, Midsummer, or even Lucia day. There is relatively little note of it in the media (mostly limited to pumpkin-themed recipes and the like, suggesting celebration has not completely died out) and commercial efforts are even more absent.

    All in all, the fact that trick-or-treating never really took off among children likely is the major reason why Halloween’s staying power was limited. One lasting legacy of the holiday, though, is apparently a spike in underage drinking on the day (though how this sets it apart from most other holidays, I know not…).

  4. Here in Denmark, it seems to be gaining strength, after a few tepid years. Three Halloween parties at the door today. Bloody nuisance, but I might warm to it.

  5. Halloween in the United States is said to trail only Christmas among holidays in terms of spending. It seems odd that Mother’s Day and perhaps Father’s Day aren’t higher than Halloween, but apparently they’re not.

    One thing that seems to be on the upswing is elaborate house and yard decorations for Halloween. That might be because Christmas decorations have gotten so costly.

  6. I live in a small town in France and Halloween is now becoming quietly popular, at least with the kids. We had a splendid time yesterday with little costumed folk requesting (demanding?) sweets and good fun was had by all

  7. There are Halloween parties in primary schools in Hungary, and in clubs, too, but All Saints’ Day (November 1st) is much more important. People go to the cemeteries to light candles on the grave of their relatives and other loved ones they lost. It’s a very solemn day, actually, so I can’t see how the two very different holidays could coexist in the long term.

    Jonathan M: here in Edinburgh Bonfire Night is alive and well judging from the sound of fireworks coming from all directions leading up to it. I’ve not seen may bonfires though during my seven years here in the UK.

  8. I’d agree that Guy Fawkes Night hasn’t entirely been supplanted yet – pretty much every major park in London has a fireworks display around November 5th, and they are very well attended. There are also numerous private ‘displays’ over the weeks around as well; bonfires themselves appear to have disappeared though – something I have seen blamed on health & safety.

  9. I saw lots of kids and grown-ups in scary costumes last night in Lyon. More than usual for a Friday night.

    Allegedly, the ‘tradition’ started in France in the last 10 years, and was created single-handedly by a purveyor of shop window decorations.

    I have been to Halloween parties in Vienna, Austria, but don’t think they do the full-blown trick and treat thing.

  10. Last night, London’s Leicester square was populated with all manner of zombies, vampires, she-devils and the odd mummy.

  11. In Holland it mostly seems to be used as a flimsy excuse for themed parties. Nobody goes door to door here, if you do people will probably just look at you funny and tell you to go home. We used to have St Maarten (St Martin to anglo-saxons) at which children would carry around lanterns and go from door to door. That didn’t stick around either.

    It’s never going to be anything like Christmas, Easter, new-years eve (there are now laws forbidding the use of fireworks on any of the fun times because it got so out of hand, it was like children were tossing handgranades…)

    got to go now, I have a costume party. I’m dressing up as Dick Cheney, couldn’t think of a bigger monster…

  12. In my area of the Netherlands (Haarlem) St. Maarten is quite big. Kids till about 12 make their own lantarns in school and on Nov 11th they go past the doors and sing songs to earn treats. It is the start of festive winter-months because the following weekend Sint Nicholas arrives in the Netherlands. Till his birthday (december 5th) children put their shoe (usually twice a week) in front of the heater and sing songs, so that Black Pete can put some small nicety or some sweets in it during the night. December 5th is a big celebration when the kids get their presents (Christmas is often not celebrated with presents) and everybody makes suprisepackages and long poems to tease and take the Mickey.

    The dressing up happends in Februari, with carnaval.

  13. In Romania Halloween is starting to be popular with kids (at least in cities). There are costume parties in some kindergartens and primary schools. As Thomas Vand said about Holland, Halloween is also a “flimsy excuse for themed parties” in clubs or elsewhere. No trick-or-treat.

  14. St Maarten is fairly big in Amsterdam (Noord) as well, with children of all backgrounds going round the neigbourhood singing songs for candy. This year for the first time I saw a specifically st. Maarten themed commercial on tv.

    Halloween is celebrated as well, but less so.

  15. It does appear as if many (most?) European countries have some kind of “youngsters going from door to door to extort candy”-tradition, besides Halloween. The Swedish variant would be children dressing up as witches (using colorful, “gypsy-like” garb rather than all black and pointy hats, usually) just before Easter. Though these days it seems to be something you more often hear of than see.

    And indeed, All Saints’ Day exists in Sweden as well (why the name was kept through over four centuries of Protestantism, I know not, but remain it did), and continues to be observed as a somewhat solemn day when people go to light candles and lay flower wreaths at the graves of departed loved ones. And indeed, the thematic clash between the two days does seem to have been a contributing factor (resentment about adopting American culture aside) to why some people (not least the elderly) have been quite adamantly opposed to seeing Halloween imported into Sweden.

  16. Here in Britanny I have seen some kids do the Halloween thing. Not a big thing, though.

    As for Sint-Maarten, when I was kid (a long long time ago) it was quite popular in Zeeland (southwest of the Netherlands). I remember carrying lanterns.

  17. There are no black-cat paper cutouts in Finland on Halloween. Or, well, at least not so much. Halloween has arrived here, but it’s not really catching on. The local supermarkets, always eager to commercialize a new holiday, attempt to sell some Halloween-related junk every year, but I’ve never seen anyone buying those.

    The local restaurants and night clubs manage a bit better. The local academic big band where I play in had a Halloween gig, and the local gay bar also had a “Halloween Hard-On”-special on the same night.

    So, it’s certainly here, and it’s definitely on the radar, but in spite of this awareness, it’s quite marginal, and will probably fade away sooner or later.

    For a comparable example, from my sixth-form school years in the late ’80s, I remember the annual Halloween celebrations, originally started by exchange students who had visited the United States. By the early ’90s, the tradition just died away. The new students just didn’t see the point in continuing it.

    Same thing with those night clubs; they can still hold normal “special weekends” without any deliberate Halloween labels, and get the same level of attendance.

    Much like in other countries, in Finland this was All Saints’ Day; a day for solemn silence and for visiting the graveyards.

    As already noted, there are other traditional days for trick-or-treating and such amusements, which means that there’s just no open niche for Halloween. The tradition of young girls dressing up as witches and bringing good greetings to the house on the Palm Sunday, in exchange for candy and gifts, was already mentioned.

    (MÃ¥ns described this as a “Swedish variant”. Actually, it’s originally a Karelian Orthodox tradition, which has survived even in western, Protestant parts of Finland. Not surprisingly, the tradition managed to spread to Sweden over the centuries.)

    Another day for trick-or-treating in the Finnish tradition would be January 13th, “the Day of Canute”. Back in the 18th and the 19th century, this was a tradition for young men; hordes of enterprising youngsters would embark on a rampage across the village, demanding the households to reward their show with booze and making pranks for those who refused to treat.

    By the 20th century, this post-Christmas tradition was diluted to the tamer version of masked and funnily-dressed children singing in exchange for candy. It was standard practice in the western parts of the country still in my youth, but these days, not so much.


    J. J.

  18. Here in Paris/parisian suburbs, my experience is that Halloween has grown a lot in the last ten years, in term of media exposure, decorations and shopping items specific to the event, if not in popularity. Surprisingly, last year’s Halloween was a total non-event, barely heard of in conversation, and it seems that this year didn’t revive the trend. I’ve seen no kids going door to door, just met a few badly costumed teenagers in the metro, heading to a party.

  19. In France I recall Halloween being jump-started one year (Wikipedia says 1997 and that sounds about right) and being more-or-less successful ever since. One big problem in those first years for children was figuring out what to say, because “it’s Halloween, give us candy !” is rather lame. I don’t know how they do it nowadays.

    When I was young it was on Mardi-Gras we’d dress up and have parties but I don’t see it happening anymore, I don’t know if this is due to a decline of the holiday, its being supplanted by Halloween or just my family not doing it anymore…

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