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'I Can't Get Into the Halloween Spirit'

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Dear Catherine,

My two sons are obsessed with Halloween. They wanted to start preparing as soon as they went back to school. By the time October rolled around, I couldn’t stave them off any more, and we went for it. We have already decorated the house and even carved pumpkins. I’m afraid they’ll rot before Halloween. Anyway, I was wondering if the French deal with this at Halloween?

Thanks,

No Spirit Yet

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Dear No Spirit Yet,

I’m not sure if this will be of any comfort, but I’m right there with you. “Skelly,” our plastic skeleton the size of an average 10-year-old, was liberated from the closet a week ago. I’ve managed to put off any carving, but I won’t pretend we’ll make it through the week without hitting a pumpkin patch.

This is all very unFrench for two reasons. The first, most irritating, one is that they are better at containing their holidays over there. Whereas it’s still fall in France, stores here are already putting out their Christmas stuff. Our kids really don’t have a chance of resisting premature holiday mania.

However, Halloween is a completely different animal in France. Less then 20 years ago, it was essentially unheard of. Even now, it’s mostly thought of as an American holiday and not universally embraced. It is catching on—but to compare cultural approaches for any tips would be fruitless. Anyway, we live here.

It’s strange, wonderful and very American.

I’m not a huge proponent of commercializing everything, but when it comes to Halloween I can’t help myself—I adore it. Maybe that explains why, 20 years after my Goth phase ended, I still wear creepers. My 7-year-old is planning to dress up as David Bowie. That alone makes me giddy. I love roaming the streets with my kids and bumping into neighbors showing their stripes. I love mini Almond Joys. I love Halloween.

In France, even trick-or-treating is complicated because of the way so many homes are constructed, with high walls facing the street and access codes for entry. When French kids trick-or-treat, it’s usually only at stores.

One of my favorite descriptions of Halloween in France comes from the book Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. The authors claim that Halloween in Honfleur, Normandy “looked and sounded more like a labor strike than the traditional children’s ritual we were accustomed to. The Honfleur children marched in a crowd between police cruisers, their little fists raised, chanting, ‘We want candies! We want candies!’"

Granted, their experience is many years old now, but it still helps to explain how something like Halloween as we know it cannot be easily exported. It’s strange, wonderful and very American.

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You can take a page out of France’s book if you want to keep Halloween at bay until mid-October by asserting your Chiefdom and simply not letting it in the house. Personally, I’m going to save that resolve for the Christmas onslaught (and try to hold out until, at least, December 1).

Bon Halloween!

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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