Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Recyled Treats

"Lack of Creativity" borrowed from Itiohs

Due to a lack of time, energy, enthusiasm, and creativity I am recycling an old post to mark this day. Since there has been a major turnover in my readership, this will be new to most of you (sorry Scott - you are one of the few tested and true readers who still lingers so this will seem a little stale). Without further ado:

[From October 31, 2003]
Trick or Treat
It’s hard to avoid the fact that today is Halloween. Our doorbell is sure to be ringing this evening with children dressed up looking for some sweet treats. I just hope there are some left by this evening to hand out to them. On the other hand, I hope we don’t have too many visitors so that there will be some treats left for me. For you, I offer this treat from my childhood:

Growing up in middle class Mexico, Halloween was always a strange holiday. It was the day leading up to the more traditional Day of the Dead, which is a grotesquely festive day. Mexicans tend to have a morbid fascination with death (I could go on about this here, but I will put that off for a different day). Rather than be mournful and sorrowful, November 1 is a day when one can commune with the spirits of those who have passed away. The festive nature can be seen in the abundant and amply decorated sugar skulls and skeletons. There is also the special bread, el pan de muertos (bread of the dead), which is baked just for this day. The food in general for this day is amazing. Throughout the country, one can see candlelight processions and elaborate flower and gift arrangements taken to graveyards.

Not wanting to pass up an opportunity for a party, many middle class Mexicans have adopted Halloween as well. When I was a child, there generally was a block party from which we made rounds through the neighborhood looking for sweet loot. Some factors made this process particularly amusing.

At the time, Halloween was a new concept in Mexico, so the variety of store-bought costumes was fairly limited. So unless you had creative parents, it was quite likely that your costume would look like someone else's. My mother refused to buy costumes, insisting that she could make it herself. At the time I resented not being able to have a costume that everyone else had. Now I realize that this was actually pretty cool. My favorite costume was when I was the Incredible Hulk. A friend of ours worked in the theater and she gave us some white makeup to which we added crushed green chalk. We ripped some old clothes and the costume was made. Never mind that I was a tall and lanky kid, I still was a cool Hulk.

Pumpkins in Mexico are not orange, but a yellow-green color. They are also hard as a rock. So attempting to carve a jack-o-lantern was always an impossible task.

The catchy phrase “trick or treat” does not exist in Spanish. Instead we had “Queremos Jalouín!” (We want our Halloween!), as though we were entitled to some candy.

Houses in middle class Mexico are surrounded by high gates or walls, which made knocking and demanding our Halloween impossible. So we rang a doorbell and demanded our Halloween through an intercom.

As I mentioned before, Halloween was relatively new and most people did not have any treats for us. So often we got whatever they could scrap up. Among the things I found in my bag were random stale cookies, batteries, clothespins, coins, pocket-sized packs of tissues, fruit, stones, and pens.

Most people just did not give us anything. For these people we carried a piece of chalk with us and wrote “CODOS” (literally elbows, but meaning stingy) on the walls in front of their houses. By the end of the evening, these houses would have a nice display of chalk graffiti.

As I grew older, Halloween grew in popularity and became more institutionalized. It spread into working class neighborhoods as well.

Now looking at it from an academic and anthropological perspective, I have followed the debates on how Halloween is just part of American capitalistic imperialism that is eroding the traditional values of the Day of the Dead. While I do see the consumer-oriented aspect of the day (the need to buy candy, costumes, etc.), I also remember having fun. I cannot speak for current day Mexico because I have not lived there for quite some time. When I was there, though, dressing up was part of the party and going out in search for treats and getting random junk was part of my own tradition. I still enjoyed getting my sugar skull and eating the special bread the next day. One did not replace the other. Each had its own special meaning to me. And these meanings will be different for each individual.

Ok, maybe that wasn’t a treat. I tricked you.

So here is a trick or treat option for you:

Treat: what is your favorite treat?

Trick: what has been the best/worst trick you have ever played or have had played on you?

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