A baffled Kiwi experiences a true American Halloween

by Joanne Black / 28 October, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Halloween America

A squirrel on Halloween pumpkins in Washington DC. Photo/Getty Images

When bands of marauding children come knocking, the scarier your house is, the better, apparently.

Here in the US, Halloween is not a night but a season, and a long one at that. Already, large pumpkins have started appearing on front doorsteps of homes in my neighbourhood. That is good news for squirrels, which are partial to pumpkin, and it’s a reminder that I vowed I would carve a pumpkin this year, not for a roasting dish – that’s so New Zealand – but to make a jack-o’-lantern.

I am partly motivated by wanting to make it look as if my family is making an effort at cultural assimilation. Carving a Halloween pumpkin when you are living in America is not like, say, fasting for Ramadan when you move to a Muslim country: the only sacrifice involved is the pumpkin’s.

The other motivation is that there are many young families in my neighbourhood and the scarier your house looks on October 31, the more welcoming it is to kids. It shows that you get it, whatever “it” is.

To be truthful, I do not get it. Halloween baffles me. As a kid, I would have been terrified to go out in the dark knowing people were going to scare me, although my sugar addiction would probably have triumphed.

I once read that one measure of addiction is what you are prepared to do to get what you most crave. Halloween would have been my test but, fortunately, when I was growing up in New Zealand in the 60s, Halloween was something you knew only from American TV shows, which screened months behind the US, serving only to increase my sense of cultural confusion.

In America, more pumpkins are carved for decoration than are eaten. When pumpkin is eaten, other than by squirrels, it is usually bought canned, which at least saves the hacking job.

I will give carving a go but, given the size of pumpkins for sale, the chance of accidentally cutting off my arm is quite high.

Still, spilling fresh blood down the front step will be authentically Halloween. As I say, baffling.

This article is an excerpt from Back to Black column that was first published in the September 30, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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