Italian children dress in costume and go to celebrations during Carnevale in February, so Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Rome. I love Halloween and so this lack of Halloween stuff pretty much sucked our first year here. By our second year, however, we had discovered that the secret was to find other people who loved and celebrated Halloween and hook up with them.
(But be forewarned about mean-spirited American women who are married to non-Americans: they may speak with fake European accents that they quickly try to lose and pretend that they were just coughing when they realize that you know they are from Ohio; and they may make disparaging remarks about what you have made and brought for the kids, such as sneering, “How very Martha Stewart of you.” This would be the time to remind them that Martha learned how to shank a bitch when she was in prison.)
And we also learned that Halloween decorations and costumes were available in all of the many stores owned and operated by non-Italians. It sounds racist to put a nationality to the ownership of the stores–I don’t know why, it just does, so I won’t. But if you live here, you definitely frequent these shops because it’s the closest thing there is to Walmart. Not that Walmart carries all the same items.
Our third year, this year, was the best Halloween thus far. We went to a good old-fashioned American-style Halloween party. Super super fun. And in between bobbing for apples and admiring the jack o’lanterns and hanging spider webs, we took the kids trick-or-treating. The mainly Italian neighborhood has a neighborhood association of sorts and residents had been told about trick-or-treating and had the option of whether or not they wished to participate. All the houses I saw were completely decorated with all things Halloween and all the Italians that opened the doors were as warm and excited as I imagine Americans must have been once upon a time when everyone was close-knit and knew their neighbors. People invited us into their homes; they gushed over the kiddos’ costumes; they delighted in the children yelling, “Dolcetto o scherzetto!“; and they seemed to enjoy handing out the treats as much as the kids seemed to enjoy getting them. One lovely woman had actually baked and decorated cookies for the children’s trick-or-treat bags.
I know that in America this would be akin to the creepy guy opening the door wearing a stained undershirt and handing out handfuls of pretzels straight from the bag and we would never allow our children to actually eat a homemade cookie because of the potential for razorblades and poison, but in Italy it was like having Mrs. Brady or Mrs. Cunningham or Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable distributing Halloween goodies.
But y’know, Halloween is still very very new here. At the last house, an elderly gentleman wearing a crisp white shirt and tie opened the door. He exclaimed over the costumes and made a big show of pretending he didn’t know why all these kids were on his doorstep and seemed to be having a grand ‘ol time. Eventually he produced a baseball hat from which he dropped a piece of candy into one of the boys’ bags. “Grazie, signore!” exclaimed the little boy enthusiastically. The gentleman then acted as though he was dropping candy into the other children’s bags…but he didn’t actually give anyone else any candy. He was just pretending. The kids looked at one another in confusion and the parents laughed nervously. The old man smiled brightly and bid us a good night. The older children murmured “thank you” and “good night” and walked away a bit perplexed. The youngest child, who was really very young and adorable, burst into tears. “But I didn’t get any candy!” the little one cried, hugging his mother’s knees in bewilderment. The old man laughed and laughed and waved good-bye.
To be fair, many things get lost in translation. But one thing is certain: that was a man who knew how to both trick and treat.