Thursday, October 31, 2019

Halloween: Italian and American versions definitely not the same

Celebrating Halloween is still something relatively new for Italians. This is the fifth time we’ve been in Montecarlo for Halloween, and we’ve seen a few gradual changes in how it is celebrated here.

Death on stilts. I think these people had
the plague. They were ringing bells, and
some small kids were truly scared of them.
They’ve got the costume part down well. Italians love dressing up and have an affinity for both uniforms and costumes. They make some pretty good haunted houses. They know how to go out at night and socialize, in fact much better than we do in America. The kids are just starting to go trick-or-treating, but this is an area that they still don’t get very well.

The first few times we were in Montecarlo for “Montecharloween,” we just walked around, admired the costumes, went through the haunted house and looked at the booths (face-painting, a few games, some crafts and food).
More nice costumes.
Last year after walking around a bit, we went back home, and our doorbell rang a few times. We live on the second floor and could see from the windows that some kids had come to the door. We didn’t have any candy to give out, so we didn’t answer, but sometimes our downstairs neighbor responded and passed out some sweets.

This year we were prepared, thanks to Lucy, who brought a pile of American Halloween candy. I waited downstairs by the door. Little happened at first, partly because I was too early by Italian standards, where nothing really starts until around 8 p.m., and partly because going door-to-door for trick or treating is just not an Italian custom. They are adopting it, but it’s a slow process.

Our first trick or treaters.
I asked Lucy to make a sign and place it outside our door, but it wasn’t complete enough to get the message across. It said, “Aperto. Trick o Treat.” Aperto means open. Maybe it would do for kids familiar with the American custom, but most are not, we discovered.

I sent Lucy back up and we made a new sign that said, “Dovete squillare e quando vengo, dici Trick or Treat (o dolcetto o scherzetto).” This means “You must ring and when I come, say Trick or Treat.” Many still didn’t understand. I would hear kids come up to the sign and read it out loud, and then say, “Mamma, cosa significa?” What does this mean? And then Mamma would explain and encourage them to try it. A few were afraid. Maybe older sister rang the bell, and little brother waited a few feet back and watched, and then he timidly came forward held out his candy bag.

Face painting booth--essential for any Halloween festa.
Many just held out a bag and were too shy to say anything, so I would ask them, “Cosa dici?” What do you say? Most used the Italian version, but a few bold souls tried it in English: Treek or treat. Then Mamma would prompt them to say either grazie or thank you.

Another elaborate costume.
We probably gave out 30 or 40 pieces of candy, but we still have that many pieces left over. If we’re here next year, I think I’ll be prepared. I’ll get a mask. I’ll write more complete instructions, with a much larger sign over our door. Something like: Instructions in the American custom of Trick or Treat—and then include detailed step-by-step directions.

Lucy suggested that I just keep the door open and hand out candy when kids walked by, but I didn’t accept this. I know it would have been a good way to show ourselves as open and friendly neighbors, but it would cut down on the interaction and instruction. They’d say grazie and I’d say prego and that would be it.

Not your typical Halloween activity. Older kids had a
chance to try out medieval weapons.
Halloween is essentially an American holiday, and I want to impart some of our traditions. Sure, I want to learn how to be Italian, but coming here is a cultural exchange. It’s not often that I have something of value to teach Italians, and I don’t want to pass up this chance. So I may even wear a costume next time, which I really don’t much like doing, but if it means providing an education and becoming more a part of the community, I think I can manage.

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