Thursday, 31 October 2013

Hallowe'en when you're not in North America

In Kuwait, Hallowe'en is a sensitive subject. Whether it's something to be celebrated or not depends on who you talk to.

There are first of all the vast majority of people who are expats from countries who don't do Hallowe'en and who don't care to start the tradition (people from the Philippines, India, and Sri Lanka, for example). 

Then there are the expats from North America who are **very** keen to somehow continue their tradition with their children while abroad.

And then you have the expats from the United Kingdom, western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand who, even though they don't celebrate Hallowe'en back home, are happy to join in on the fun with their North American expatriate confreres while abroad. The Bambino's French school is an example of this mindset. The French don't traditionally celebrate Hallowe'en - at least not in France. But the French school in Kuwait definitely does. The kids in the preschool and kindergarten arrive in costumes. The classrooms are decorated. The teachers, also in disguise lead the children through the administration corridors yelling "farces ou friandises" (a French translation of "trick or treat" to anyone who'll give them some candy.

And then there is the 30 percent or so of the population that is Kuwaiti and that is divided on the subject of Hallowe'en. Some see Hallowe'en as a fun and harmless way to stimulate their children's imagination. Others see at a Christian/pagan/satanic festival that has no place in Kuwaiti culture and should be banned from sight. Kidzania Kuwait recently canceled their Hallowe'en costume party after receiving pressure from customers who took offense that a local business was promoting a non-Kuwaiti tradition.

But even in Kuwait where Hallowe'en remains a little bit hush-hush do to local sensitivities, if you're looking for something to do on 31 October, you can always find a Hallowe'en party at your local beach club or at places like The Little Gym or at your child's school. The hard part is finding a place to do trick or treating. In other expat countries, American families might organise a trick or treat in the park. We used to do this in Paris. Everyone lines up, and then the kids at the end of the line "trick or treat" the others in turn.  Nothing like that has ever been organised here in Kuwait. Last year, we did no trick-or-treating at all. This year, due to pressure from the kiddies, I'm sending them over to some (American) friends who live in a building full of other Americans (it's one of the faculty buildings for the American University of Kuwait, in fact) and my kids will trick or treat at all the apartments in the building. I'm giving a kilo of candy to my friends to distribute to other kids on our behalf.

But even with this kind of make-shift set up, I realise that my children will probably never experience a true All Hallows Eve. It's not the same thing when the whole city or even neighbourhood isn't participating. It's not the same thing when there aren't jack-o-lanterns lining the porches and window sills of every house on the street. And it's not the same thing when you don't see hordes of kids everywhere outside traipsing from door to door. The real Hallowe'en will have to wait until they're grown up and possibly living in North America - although I hear that in France, it's also catching on...