Halloween in Medellin: Where kids, adults, and even DOGS get in the spooky spirit

Halloween in Medellin: Where kids, adults, and even DOGS get in the spooky spirit
Halloween was one of my favorite days growing up, as it probably is for most kids. It meant pretending to be something fun, having a party at school, staying up late, and eating loads of candy.
I took Halloween to the next level as an adult, hand-making complex group costumes for our family complete with car decorations and themed treats. We always had so much fun, and now Whit loves Halloween, too.
This is our second year being abroad for Halloween, and last year’s celebration in Thailand was hysterical. The only costumes I could pull off with limited resources were Skittles sandwich boards. Whit wore his to school, one of only 2 or 3 kids to do so (even though it was an international school which announced Halloween activities that day.) That night we went to our church’s attempt at a trunk-or-treat, which ended up being us explaining to plain-clothed Thai teenagers what Skittles are and then putting candy in their bags as they sat in a line on the parking lot curb, not understanding why we wanted them to ask if we preferred a trick or a treat. (Our Skittles won best group costume that year, an honor I had worked so hard for but never achieved in the US. Despite the fact that it was awarded because we were the only group with matching costumes, Whit and I still paraded that piece of paper around Thais who had no idea what it meant.)
This year we were all thrilled to learn that Halloween is taken pretty seriously in Colombia. A few weeks ago every apartment building set out decorations, our building started making plans for the kids to go door-to-door as a group, there have been parties, and adults and kids all dress up pretty intensely.
Ben took Whit shopping for a costume one day when I was sick and came back looking like a deranged skeleton. I’m pretty jumpy and I don’t have the stomach for realistically scary things, so I kept pleading with him not to wear the mask. But he’s a 7-year-old boy, so and my pleas fell on deaf ears. Hes already worn it out a few times, as other children have also worn costumes.
The morning of Halloween I woke up at 5:50 am to this skeleton trying to steal my soul. He gave a loud roar and I gave an even louder scream.
Halloween in Medellin Colombia
I yelled, “That’s so mean!” afterwards and tried to calm my beating heart.
Whit came back to our room a few minutes later with his costume around his ankles and a small box in his hands. He began to cry as he sat on the edge of our bed and apologized for scaring us, gave us little treats, and said he’d done something nice for me (unloaded some groceries.) Of course I felt terrible, and soon he was again excited to wear his costume to school and have a great day.
They had an amazing day centered around Halloween at school. As he told me stories of the school-wide party and activity centers they enjoyed I couldn’t help but think back to our Halloween in Thailand last year. He was one of only a couple of children to wear a costume to school, despite the teachers really trying to turn it into a big deal, and the simple Skittles sandwich board was made to be a huge deal. The difference is night and day, and I’m so happy he had such a wonderful experience!
Halloween in Medellin Colombia

That afternoon Whit made 16 treat bags for the kids in our building while I made lasagna for an early dinner. Fernando, our favorite building security guard, had warned us the day before that he’d call our apartment around 7:00 when the kids were ready to go door-to-door as a group. Whit shoveled down dinner well before 7:00, got dressed, and waited rather impatiently for the call (which came promptly at 7:00. Thanks, Fernando!) 

Ben and Whit met the rest of the kids and a few parents at the lobby while I waited in the apartment. The group of trick-or-treaters started took the 2 elevators to the top of the building and knocked on the two apartments on each floor before taking the stairs to the floor below. Ben texted around floor 14 that I should meet them up there, but I insisted that I stay put at our floor- halfway- and that we stick together after that. He replied back, “Ok, but say iMas duro! when they get to the door.”

I didn’t understand what that meant until they got to the floors directly above me. What started out as a faint chant grew louder, as I began to make out a group of young voices repeating the same Halloween chant. Were they going to chant at me? And I was supposed to get them to sing louder?

Finally it was my turn. I heard the loud chanting at the same time The Flash rang our doorbell, and suddenly 10 Colombia children and a few very well-costumed adults were demanding I give them the candy the wanted or my nose would grow.

It was such an overwhelmingly impressive sight! I couldn’t help but laugh my astonishment and pleasure, and join Ben and Whit for the remaining 7 floors while randomly uttering my disbelief every time they “sang”.

What I loved was the fun and community of this practice. The fact that adults were as into this holiday as the children were. That they were going around together. That they only go door-to-door in their own building, where they know and love each other. I loved the song and enthusiasm with which they asked for candy. They weren’t punk teenagers in a tuxedo T-shirt ringing our bell every 2 minutes expecting a handful of candy in their grocery bag. No, these kids were working for their booty.


Halloween in Medellin Colombia


And seeing Whit join in the Spanish chant and run from floor to floor with the other superheroes and princesses? Absolutely priceless.

We’d been told that the real thing to do in Medellin is head to the shopping centers on Halloween. Apparently that’s where people dress up and hand out candy, which was hard for us to picture. Even though Whit didn’t finish the 25 apartments in our building until after 8:00 pm, there was no way we weren’t going to check out the mall scene.

We were the only family from our building to head out, and I’m so glad we did. We practiced the Spanish Halloween chant during our 10-minute walk to the biggest of the 4 (yes, four) malls within walking distance to us. As we approached we saw more and more costumed kids, families, and pets on the street. I love that this holiday is not just for kids! We passed a couple dressed to the 9’s with a huge dog dressed as Harry Potter as we entered the mall, in fact! They smiled and turned their dog toward us as they heard me exclaim, and I love that we both got pleasure out of the incident.


Halloween in Medellin Colombia


Once inside the mall we understood what people had been trying to tell us. It was  covered with kids of all ages in costumes handing out and receiving candy. Not from the shop owners, as we expected, from each other. Once we got over the incredible cuteness of seeing escalators and walkways filled with tiny uniorns and spiderpeople Whit got right down to business: handing out candy.

We made the mistake of buying a massive bag of absolutely terrible candy this year, and we were determined not to keep any of it in our house. Ben held the bag while Whit grabbed huge handfulls to pass out to random kids we walked around. They were all delighted that this white boy was dressed up and handing out candy, and their parents were equally fun and gracious. A lot gave him candy in exchange and a few gave him hugs. It was heart-stoppingly adorable.


Halloween in Medellin Colombia


My favorite moment was when we passed another skeleton walking in the opposite direction. He noticed Whit first, made a motion of recognition, and then started a Minecraft dance, indicating that Whit should join him. Whit doesn’t know those dances and was too shy to try, but the scene was so cute. I could just imagine what this kid was thinking: “Hey! You and me are the same! We don’t speak the same language, so let’s just dance together.”

My second favorite moment was happening upon a group of Snow Whites waiting in line for pictures at one of the photo stations. Yes, a group of Snow Whites. Two moms dressed as Snow White with a total of 4 little girls in Snow White costumes and candy bags. Oh. Em. Gee. They were to die for. I had the pleasure of taking pictures for the two families (whom I assumed came together…?) and just fawned over their cuteness.


Halloween in Medellin Colombia


We got home around 9:30, handed Fernando our leftover candy (I told you it wasn’t coming back in our house) threw Whit in a shower, and called it a night.

Wouldn’t you know he woke up at 6:00 on the dot the next morning.


Halloween in Medellin Colombia