By Georges Budago Makoko
In the U.S., with the arrival of fall comes the three months of the year commonly known as “the holiday season.” Many Americans, whether religious or not, look forward to this season of busy celebrations, and observe a number of major holidays between October and January: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas and New Year.
Halloween causes confusion for some immigrants, and it is easy to imagine how this could be so. Some immigrants see the trappings of the holiday and conclude it must be a sacred day focused on honoring memories of the dead. Such days are found in many African cultures. Others have experienced trauma related to losing their loved ones in horrific situations, and can be easily triggered by talk and images of death.
Most Americans view Halloween as a harmless and completely secular children’s holiday, meant for entertainment and focused on candy and costumes and fantasy, with little other meaning. It is a playful children’s holiday, without heavy overtones. Most children learn about Halloween at school and are eager to participate. Americans do not view Halloween as a celebration of the dead, a time to remember ancestors or to worship at graves.
Some immigrants, unsure of the holiday’s meaning, do not want their children to be involved. The holiday’s rituals of trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, wearing scary costumes, lighting lanterns, and hanging up decorations involving ghosts, black cats and other objects intended to cause fright can be confusing or upsetting to a newcomer. American neighbors, and those who have been here during previous holiday seasons, could be helpful by explaining to newcomers that Halloween is nothing more than a playful children’s holiday. People’s cultures are different, and understanding these differences is an important part of living peacefully together.