Americans have fond memories of past Halloweens from their childhood (at least, I hope they do). I don’t really remember the costumes or masks, but I do remember walking the streets in our California neighborhood and eventually going through the haul. It was so much fun to be outside in the dark and on a school night. And you were not alone, as there were many children doing the same thing you were doing. This was a time when it was rare to have a house with all their lights out, a very clear indication that there were to be no treats handed out at that house. There was a lot of hustle and bustle and trying to figure out who was who. But when the trick or treating was over, it was time to get home and see what you got from the neighbors.

My sister and I would empty our bags onto the floor and start to make piles. There was the pile for the favorites…the candy that you would eat first like M& M’s, Milky Ways or Baby Ruths. There was the pile for the small packets of gum and Life Savers…they were not bad, but they could certainly wait until all others were consumed. That left two more piles to make: the one for the stuff you did not like at all and for the stuff you hoped to trade with your sister because you know she likes it more than you do. The negotiations would begin and we were both pretty successful. If there were still things we did not like at all, we offered them to our parents. The whole Halloween season was so much fun and satisfying and it was a great time to be a kid.

Here in the Netherlands, things are a little different. There are Halloween items for sale in the stores, like decorations with skeletons and scary things. And you can get costumes as well. But here, Halloween seems to be more for adults to have a “fright night” at a club or to have a private costume party. Halloween is not a big deal here for children, but there are some who do trick or treat, if it is organized by the families. And I think that is mainly for expat families who want to continue their American traditions. Some Dutch are resistant to the idea of Halloween as it is not a tradition in this country, it is an American tradition. Besides, the Dutch would argue they have their own version of Halloween.

On November 11, it is Saint Martin’s Day (Sint Maarten). Young children dress up, carry paper lanterns and go through their neighborhoods. They will sing a song and gets sweets or even a tangerine. Sometimes there will be a small parade of children as they go door to door.

Why? The story goes that on a dark and stormy night, Martin was walking alone and was wearing a cloak and he had only a piece of bread. He came across a man who had nothing. Martin gave him half his cloak and half his bread and invited him to come home with him. He is now known as Saint Martin and he is famous for his kindness.

In this country, this day is more popular in certain regions. In the northern part of the Netherlands, Saint Martin’s Day is a really big deal. But it is not so popular in other parts of the country. You never know what town or neighborhood will be participating. Parents will invite neighbors to give treats, and to put out a sign on their door letting the children know that they can ring their bell. That seems to be a practical way to do it and not surprisingly, a very Dutch thing to do.

So there you have it, the story of two countries and how holidays are so different.  For some of us, we just have our memories of Halloweens past. As I am writing this, I have remembered two more things: One house on our street, would give away homemade popcorn balls…they were so fresh and delicious. We knew where they came from so it was safe to eat them. The ball was one of the first things we would eat, as it smelled so good and we did not want it to become stale. You knew they were made that day. I then remember being too old to trick or treat, and I became the door monitor and got to have a different point of view. Opening the door and seeing the witches, the ghosts, the cowboys and princesses all screaming “trick or treat!”  and you put your hand in the bowl and drop goodies into their bags. Life was good. And it still is for a whole new generation.

I hope everyone has a sweet time this year. Let the doorbells ring.

Recommended reading-one of the scariest storytellers in the world is Stephen King. He has made me look into sewage drains, closets and even toilets. He has spooked me on many occasions. But King has also written great stories that are not filled with horror. His latest novel—11-22-63-is such a book. It is absolutely a page turning entertaining read.

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