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Halloween in Chiang Mai, Thailand was a pretty unusual experience…
I love Halloween. It’s actually my favorite holiday to celebrate. I know that’s strange, so I’ll explain.
My birthday falls on Thanksgiving every 4 years, and I was scarred as a child when I insisted on having my birthday party on my actual birthday and no one came because they were all out of town (or so I’ve told myself.) I love cooking for Thanksgiving, but the meal never seems to last as long when eating and I’m just not sure it’s worth the preparation anymore.
Christmas is fine, but also not my favorite. My parents divorced when I was in middle school and my older siblings had almost all moved away, so Christmas became a weird time for me. Besides the family drama, I’ve always been more drawn to the spiritual reason for the holiday over the commercial reason, and I just get really bugged when I see that so much of the general Christmas attitude, decorations, music, etc. are focused on commercial symbols. I know better than to judge others by my personal values (or at least I’m working on it), so I’ve just learned not to take Christmas too seriously at all.
Ben’s extended family collects for reunions around Fourth of July so everyone can revisit the quintessential small American town he grew up in, so he loves that holiday. I love celebrating with his family in Petoskey, Michigan, too, but for me it’s always been more about seeing his side of the family, not the nation’s birth. (But, boy, do they throw a seriously adequate parade!)
What else is there? New Years? Valentine’s Day? Easter? All fine. Just not super awesome.
For me Halloween is where it’s at. It was the holiday my non-religious Dad took really seriously, and we would spend hours updating our yard’s graveyard each year. There’s no religious pressure associated with the holiday, so people are free to celebrate (or not) however they choose. Although it’s completely voluntary I love that so many people participate. It’s like we all actually agree on something! I love the spirit of community that comes with celebrating just for the sheer fact of wanting to celebrate.
I also love the challenge it poses as a mom. I’m a certain type of crafty, but sewing is definitely not that certain type. And yet I find myself eager to create matching literary-themed costumes for the three of us every year. I try to outdo myself when making these costumes so I’m challenged to up the ante on my creative DIY game. One year I used fabric glue to put together our costumes. Another year I dyed fabric and added iron-on decals. And one year I just took a few cans of spray paint to some thrift store shirts. And you know what? We’ve looked awesome.
I not only go all-out on DIYing matching costumes, I extend the theme to our car and decorations and the candy we hand out at our church’s annual Trunk-or-Treat party. As history has shown, we show up an hour early for the party to set up our car and treats and take pictures of the finished product, I feel super duper proud of my crafting job, no one seems to have the read the book we’re representing or just doesn’t associate us with it, and we lose the group costume contest. (How did the scuba diver and her baby fish win against us bringing the entire Harold and the Purple Crayon book to life?! I’ll never get over it!)
It’s become one of my bucket list goals to win that contest.
As silly as it sounds, missing Halloween was one of the things I tried to prepare myself for before leaving the United States. It’s good to be prepared, right?
Well, the expat city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, was a great choice to spend the holiday because there was just enough Western influence to celebrate a little bit!
We have enrolled Whit in an international school for the month and were told right away that he could come to school on Halloween in his costume. We then heard that the branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we’re attending in Chiang Mai would be holding their first American-style Trunk-or-Treat the weekend before Halloween.
Two reasons to dress up?! Yay!
With just two days to prepare for the big Trunk-or-Treat party I was nervous to ask Whit what he wanted to dress up as. We didn’t have enough time or resources to pull off the sort of feat I usually attempt. Whit had been excited to see Skittles for the first time in months at a store earlier that day and I was pretty thrilled to hear him announce that we should all be Skittles. It’s the first Halloween that we won’t be literary, but that’s for the best. Finding colored cardboard would be easier than making an Iron Giant costume, which is what I was sure he was going to say.
A new friend suggested we look for costume materials at a local chain store, Big C. Big C is similar to K-Mart. It’s part grocery store, part clothing store, and part home goods store. Emphasis on part. Tiny parts, in fact. At first we scoured the store from left to right looking for any sort of craft section where we could find solid colored felt, batting (or pillows, in a pinch) and Stitch Witch. No luck.
What we did eventually find was one short aisle of paper craft supplies. Colored presentation boards, white sticker paper, glue, string, and an x-acto knife all came home with us.
We next looked for crepe paper streamers to make a rainbow out of for the back of our car. No luck. We did find Skittles, at least, but only miniature tubes of 30 Skittles for $1USD/ bottle. Steep! We decided to forego decorating the car and bought out their supply of 6 Skittles tubes plus some earring-sized plastic zipper bags.
The day of the church’s Halloween party we watched movies and I cut the boards into large circles, the sticker paper into ‘S’es (much harder than it sounds when all you have is an x-acto knife), and used the string to turn two circles into sandwich boards we could wear. Whit then helped me put 5 Skittles into each tiny ziploc bag and we considered ourselves ready.
It wasn’t much, but we looked like Skittles and I felt like that was a huge accomplishment.
The Halloween party was our first introduction to the local church members. We had been with three of the regular families in Nepal, but would be meeting many, many more both Thai and English members. We wanted to make a good impression, so I insisted we park in the back of the lot and approach in our Skittles costumes.
Well, we certainly made an impression!
As it turns out, Thailand doesn’t celebrate Halloween so none of the Thai partygoers were dressed up (except for the occassional school gym uniform or hockey mask). Most were sitting on the edge of the curb, in fact, their trick-or-treating bags open in front of them as a few adults dropped candy inside. You wouldn’t think a holiday where literally all that’s expected is “Trick or treat?” in exchange for free candy could get much lazier, but I assure you, it can.
A few English families made a slightly bigger attempt at dressing up. About half of their children were in some sort of costume, though not nearly as ornate as we would have seen in the States. A couple of adults donned witch hats or hippie accessories, but none were as dressed up as we were.
That’s right, our three Skittles kind of rocked their world. And I’m not sure if it was in a good way.
We stuck out like a sore thumb as we approached the lackluster crowd, and then tried to overcome our obvious over-preparation with over-the-top attitudes. We offered to man another member’s candy bowl, and I enthusiastically tried to wave over each Thai youth to our table and teach them to say “Trick or treat?” or “Happy Halloween!” while giving them handfulls of Thailand’s main bulk candy, individually-wrapped tropical Mentos, and a single baggie of Skittles.
More than a few times the youth would laugh and point at my costume and say, “M&M!”, to which I’d reply, “Skittle!” I would point to my ‘S’ then to my mini bag of Skittles and say, “Same same! ‘S’ for SKITTLE! Not M!” I don’t know if they learned what Skittles are, how to say Happy Halloween, or that white people are cray but hopefully something got through that night.
In the end the American family in charge of the event had come with a handful of printed costume contest certificates and very few people to hand any superlative out to. So guess who finally won best group costume? This big, round, purple ‘S’ board right here!
I admit I was getting really into the party despite it’s casualness, and gave a giant whoop when I was handed our award. Whit heard me and caught on to my excitement then ran off with the paper to yell our accolade to literally each person at the party. I know I should teach him to be more modest and humble, but who cares. I earned that award!
We insisted on dressing up as the Orange and Purple Skittles to pick Whit up from school on the day of Halloween, as well. He had walked in as the Red Skittle, and was so happy when another first grader came up to him and said, “Hey, Whit! Are you a Skittle? Cool!” I have to admit, it made me pretty proud when a few kids came up to us, smiling and asking for Skittle high fives after school, too.
So I guess you could say we’ve set the bar pretty high.