Halloween| Natural Language Institute

Insights and Experiences



By Rita Elena Daniel - 11/nov/2015 #History, Culture, and the Arts

This Halloween was much more than just a stand-at-the-door, coo at adorable kids in costumes, and drop fistfuls of candy into their plastic jack-o-lantern buckets kind of holiday. I like to think that the NLI Halloween celebration this year, though modest, was enlightening. It was to be expected that Natural Kids and their teachers would do something fun for the holiday, since it is primarily a child’s celebration and also an opportunity for a cultural experience. A week or two before Halloween, the local newspaper, Correio Braziliense, contacted the school and asked to do an interview with the Kids. Basically, the gist of the article was to ask the children if they prefer
red this adopted North American holiday over the idea of a new Brazilian holiday which would celebrate a folk legend named Saci Pererê— a mischievous one-legged boy with the power to create tornadoes. To be frank, I was present during the interview and I witnessed the children’s predictable reactions to the question—their arrival to the interview decked out in Halloween costumes kind of suggested the answer already—they prefer Halloween.

It’s understandable that Brazilian adults would be wary of the North American holiday—it so brazenly promotes overindulgence and perhaps even a hint of violence (what with all o
f the blood covered masks, toy knives, guns, and swords). Yet, I found myself conflicted as an American who was raised with this holiday and who sees very little harm in the celebration. So, I decided to try to get some inside information. Luckily, I have access to reliable, first-hand, Brazilian sources, so I decided to construct a few lessons with my students, focused on identifying their stance on the holiday and the reasons behind their beliefs about it.  To begin, I had my students read an article about how Halloween is celebrated around the world. This showed them that many countries, not just the U.S., celebrate it with their own various “spins” on the tradition. I felt that I had to point out that the holiday itself is not even originally American. The holiday goes back to an Irish Catholic tradition—but in good old American fashion—we took the holiday and capitalized on it, making it highly profitable for business and portraying ourselves in movies and T.V. shows celebrating it “our way.” My students seemed only slightly softened by the thought of this.

Next, I held a discussion about the Brazilian holiday, Carnival. As a foreigner, I have a serious curiosity about the celebration, because, from an American perspective, Carnival seems like a mesh between Halloween and Spring Break. Anyway, all curiosity aside, my students didn’t fail to amuse as I watched their faces turn into coy smirks at the question: Can you describe how Carnival is celebrated? My students related wonderful stories about throwing one’s inhibitions to the wind for 3-7 days (depending on the locale) as parades, costumes, dancing, and basically all forms of indulgence are permitted—if not encouraged. To make my point, I had to ask them: what was the difference between this holiday’s celebration rituals and Halloween’s?

Basically, both holidays allow people to disregard their social status, dress up in costumes, drink, frolic, and behave differently than they do on a day-to-day basis. I think that through hearing themselves explain Carnival’s semi-carnal nature out loud, it brought my students closer to seeing that American Halloween might not be so different from their beloved Carnival. Of course, one is aware of the fact that in certain respects, the holidays are different, but generally speaking, I think that their similarities outweigh their differences. In either regard, there is always a potential for misunderstanding when communication is insufficient, but hopefully my students left class with a bit more understanding of this issue. Ultimately, it boils down to this: people love to have an excuse to have fun, so why not go with Halloween? As I’ve experienced so far, nearly every Brazilian I’ve met is enthusiastic about making every day a kind of celebration—of small things in life, as well as the big. So, why not look at Halloween as a cultural inheritance rather than a cultural invasion?

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