A friend from the States asked me not long ago if people celebrate Halloween in Switzerland. While it’s been growing in popularity over the years, folks don’t celebrate it to the extent that we do back home. They don’t dress up in bizarre and terrifying costumes. They don’t send their kids out to collect unhealthy sugary snacks from complete and potentially dangerous strangers. And they certainly haven’t turned it into a multi-billion-dollar industry, as we have in the US.
Throughout October, absent were the festive orange and black window trappings adorning retail windows.
Haunted houses? Non-existent.
Corn mazes? A farm near Basel offered one, but it was hours away by train. No trips by horse and wagon to pick out the perfect pumpkin for carving.
Costume contests, trick-or-treating, candy corn?
No, no, and no!
With no reason to wait until after October 31st, stores started putting out Christmas displays weeks ago. Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, browsing along the streets in town left me with a hollow feeling, as if fall had come, but hadn’t really come. For what is autumn without Halloween? The holiday is such a fabric of American culture, for me it’s become inextricably linked with the very essence of fall.
So with sadness at the thought of letting Halloween slip quietly past and with encouragement from friends in Switzerland, we decided to throw our own Halloween party. We invited our Portuguese family, our landlords, Trav’s lab mates, and several Fribourg friends whom we met through our second Airbnb hosts back in July.
The day before the party, we still didn’t have decorations, a pumpkin, costumes, snacks, or drinks for the party. Friends recommended Manor, a local department store that we had yet to visit. Right in downtown Fribourg, it’s like our version of Fred Meyer or Target, selling groceries, clothing, toys, household goods – even a handful of Halloween merchandise.
Though it was the day before Halloween, some of it was already marked 50% off. We scooped up some decorative silk spider webbing, a window cling, spooky glow-in-the-dark ghost balloons, jumbo packages of Snickers and Twix on clearance, and their last (non broken/moldy) pumpkin for carving and roasting seeds, all for only 22 chf. It’s by far the least we’ve ever spent on Halloween!
When our very first guests arrived, we left the front door ajar with a darkened entryway. Waiting for them to swing open the door and enter, I jumped out and hollered,
None of the adults even reacted, but the tiny Mickey Mouse in his dad’s arms startled violently. I felt terrible! Luckily Mickey appeared unfazed, and his parents were good “spirits” about it.
Guests continued to show up, bringing wine, German mead, chocolate, snacks, and a tasty homemade caramel Bundt cake. Before long, the house was filled with lively conversation in a mixture of different languages that never ceases to fascinate me.
Rather than shedding our customs and traditions in order to conform to life in Switzerland, I’ve found that friends here encourage us to continue to celebrate them. They’re as curious about our culture as we are about theirs. In that shared interest, we’ve found the rich opportunity to begin to establish meaningful and permanent friendships.
We didn’t move abroad just to “see the sights” or to tick another country off our bucket list. Living here rather than just visiting as tourists offers us the chance for a different kind of travel experience: to make lasting friendships, to share cultures, to grow as individuals, and to truly learn to see the world as others do while still celebrating who we are.