There is some negative feeling in Barcelona about Halloween and its sordid, tacky traditions. I have felt these same things about Halloween and many other American holidays, which seem to become more about consumerism than human interaction every year. (Maybe THE CRISIS will curtail that trend for a while.) Halloween becomes a sugar-powered skankfest; Valentine’s Day boils down to a one-sentence greeting card the sentiments we should share with each other every day.
Nevertheless, I felt my hackles rising when I began to perceive all the Halloween-bashing going on around me in my new home city. Suddenly I started remembering with warmth and nostalgia the many years of dressing up to go trick-or-treating. On cold October nights in upstate New York, my parents would grab a flashlight and their coats and take us out for hours knocking on doors to collect candy. It must have seemed as dumb to them as it does to most Europeans, and certainly more annoying since it was their toes and fingers that froze while we ran merrily from house to house.
It was a night when the whole family hung out together. My dad took pictures of us in our costumes. We fought with our mom about how many layers of long underwear we had to put on under our outfits. After running around in the cold we went home and sorted our loot. My brother Andrew and I would catalog our haul in true Type-A style. 2 packs Skittles. 4 Three Musketeers, Fun Size. 1 apple (rejected by Mom; see below).
Who can forget the old ladies who wrapped their treats in orange tissue paper, or white Kleenex tied with string to look like a ghost? What about the urban legends about poison and razor blades stuck into Snickers bars and apples? (Hence Mom’s rejection of apples – although I think I would have noticed a razor blade sticking out of an apple. Sheesh.) Oh, the lines of parents x-raying their child’s candy bag or plastic pumpkin tote, searching for evidence of foul play. These were the golden years.
And what about high school, when we dressed up and went out with our friends to cause trouble? In my case, trouble was pretty limited. During my “vampire” phase I dressed up as an Anne Rice character (a male character who wears three-piece suits – nothing too skanky there). That evening we had a sleepover at my friend Erin’s house and her father made pancakes the next morning for eight bleary-eyed vampires.
In fact, the anti-Halloweeners here have helped me remember many wonderful times in my childhood, and have helped to cure me of my own resistence to the holiday “invented by candy companies.”
In the context of my new understanding of Halloween, I am also enjoying the Catalan traditions of the Castanyada, celebrated on November 1 (Tots Sants / All Saints’ Day). One part of enjoying this holiday is making (and eating) a sweet treat called panellets. The process of making these little guys involves a lot of time, elbow-grease, and a fair amount of swearing. In my next entry, I will show you how my in-laws-to-be taught me to make panellets. For now let’s say that it’s a little trickier than unwrapping a Milky Way.