Trick or Treat?

If you ask an American what are the most celebrated holidays in the US, Halloween must be one of the top answers. I’ve been told that this pumpkin-and-ghost themed holiday has become in recent years more and more popular and that celebrations start earlier and earlier.

Look, in mid-August you can see some stores in the US have already put the Halloween products—haunted house toys, candies and pumpkin baskets—on the shelves. By September, you won’t miss Halloween decorations in the restaurants and small bookstores. In pharmacies, the Halloween colors of orange and red dominate the aisles for stationary and cards.

In my first October of studying in America, I had a chance to visit a farm outside of Pittsburgh with other international students. I was shocked to see huge pumpkins scattered on the ground at one side of the entrance. These pumpkins were so much bigger than the ones in China. Some were gigantic enough to serve as a stool for three slim Asian students.

It’s American tradition to decorate doorsteps and yards and even kitchens and living rooms with pumpkins and squashes. The squashes have various shapes and colors; some look really ugly. For the bolder households, artificial spider webs and skeletons festooned the exterior, sending an atmosphere of horror.

At first I couldn’t believe that Americans don’t eat the huge pumpkins. You would think at this harvest time it makes sense to appreciate big pumpkins at the dining table. But no. Several American friends told me the big pumpkins taste sour, no good. The small ones may be made into pumpkin soup and pies.

Trick or treating isn’t strange to young Chinese. We learn briefly about Halloween traditions through books and TV programs. But I hadn’t seen a real trick or treating in person until I came to America. I was surprised to see how a non-religious holiday is celebrated so elaborately, especially among children. Putting on those eccentric costumes of known cartoon and legendary characters—such as Frankenstein, Transformer and Snow White—is like a must-have experience for every American childhood. I overheard parents discussing with their young children about what to wear for the coming Halloween. So I imagined the kids must play different roles every year. Whether their parents have to shop for various costumes or rent them, I think it’s still a sizeable expense, especially if the family has more than one kid.

I’m not surprised that Halloween has also become known in China, catching up with the fame of Christmas. If any holiday can create a source of moneymaking, business people are always eager to commercialize it. Same as in America. On the evening of October 31st, when I see the kids in all sorts of costumes knocking on the neighbors’ doors for treats, I wonder how many treats the manufacturers have gained from Halloween. No trick at all!


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America