Kalabasa and Pumpkins Galore: A Pinoy Halloween in the States

This is the first of a series of post-event notes about two months spent in the East Coast, USA.

One of the best things about visiting the US in the Fall is celebrating Halloween. It’s not big in the Philippines, where it’s overshadowed by All Souls’ and All Saints’, but in recent years, it’s started to gain popularity. Kids in costumes varying from cute to creepy have been spotted all over the Philippines’ major cities. But in the provinces, not many know what Halloween is. We don’t even have pumpkins.

We do have a local version, the kalabasa or the squash, which I don’t think anyone’s ever thought of carving for decorative purposes.

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When the first of October rolled in, and the Americans around me started getting hyped for Halloween, it was only then that I began to realize how important Halloween is in the US. The apartment we lived in had spooky themed events to gather the residents – Weekly Horror Movies, free door signs for residents to announce if they were participating in Trick-or-Treat or not, and my favorite, the Halloween hay-corn-and-pumpkin decorations in the elevator lobby. When we went around the neighborhood, too, there were signs of Halloween everywhere.

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Even our Filipino friends in America had stories to share about Halloween. My favorite one, care of Auntie M, was about another Filipino who’d just migrated. He’d been left alone in the family apartment on Halloween, and no one had told him the significance of the evening. So he was there, puttering about in the kitchen, when someone rang the doorbell. This Uncle then went to look through the peephole, found nothing there but an empty hallway, and resolved to just ignore what happened. But then the doorbell rang again, and, bracing himself, he finally opened the door to find a little devil standing on the hallway. With the horns and the pitchfork and everything.

Uncle, shocked, cursed very fluidly in the Filipino language. The little kid who rang the doorbell got scared, and ended up crying. At this point in the story, I was overcome by giggles, and never managed to find out if the kid got compensation for his fright in the form of some sweet. I wouldn’t be surprised though, if Uncle ended up giving the kid whatever he had been cooking. Hey, it might have been lumpia – that would have fit very well in those goody bags trick-or-treaters bring around.

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We were happily invited to a gathering among Filipino friends on the eve of Halloween. And though I loved it, it was very Filipino. I love Filipino food, I seriously do, and our hosts were absolutely wonderful. Filipino hospitality, delicious food, the joy of speaking in your native tongue – it was fantastic!

There’s just this slight mental dissociation between rice and Halloween, you know? 😀

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On the way to the party, I didn’t see a single person in costume. On the way back, I saw a handful of people, but couldn’t see well enough to identify who or what they’d been dressed as. The whole night of the party, only one pair of kids rang the doorbell at our hosts’ to trick-or-treat. Not that I’m complaining, because aside from the endless supply chicharon, our hosts also had this huge bowl of Snickers laid out. So, because there was too much chocolate and too few trick-or-treaters, we guests ended up with our hands in the candy bowl and wild surges of sugar rush.

Thus went my first – and hopefully, not last – Halloween in America.

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