Halloween in Colombia

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Teaching English in Colombia: Halloween

Did you know that Halloween is celebrated in Colombia? It’s a big time holiday too.

Adults and children alike dress up in costumes and make up. Employees in many offices, banks, supermarkets and retail stores also wear a simple costume, face paint or special make up. “Why do Colombians celebrate Halloween” I’ve asked many times. I’ve been teaching English in Colombia for more than a decade now and still no one can really tell me how Halloween came to be adopted on such a large scale in Colombia.

“We never celebrated Halloween when I was a child” Doris Lopez says watching two of her grandchildren “suit up” as “the Flash” and a Princess. She adds, “My children never celebrated Halloween or went “trick or treating, either”. Her children, now in their mid thirties, do take their children out using the expression, “Tricky, tricky Halloween” to solicit candy, sweets and treats from neighbors.

One Halloween Costume “Rule”

When celebrating Halloween in Colombia there’s one unwritten rule though. It’s that you can’t wear a full-face mask or “alter” your appearance beyond the recognizable. Why? I think primarily because there is a certain “element” of people who would use the holiday to disguise themselves and commit crimes. Just think, someone walks into a bank or large store dressed in a gorilla suit, then robs the place and its customers. After leaving the scene, the perpetrator need only ditch the suit and would be totally immune to recognition of any type. The person could even be standing right there when the police arrived and no one would be the wiser!

Private Celebrations in Schools

Many primary and secondary schools sponsor their own activities for their charges on the school grounds inviting parents and family members to participate in games, dramas, parades and costume-judging and other types of contests. During classes, a variety of activities are included such as coloring books, specially-prepared foods, treats and baked goods. Spooky stories are read, watched or listened to. A realia like plastic spiders, ghost figures, witches, Jack-o-lanterns (curious because pumpkins are not grown in Colombia) and assorted “monsters” are used for decoration, name tags and in a variety of other ways.

A Highly Commercialized Festivity

Merchants are always keen to get into the act as is likely true worldwide. Not only are there “specials” on a broad range of packages of candies, lollipops and sweets, but commercial shopping centers sponsor Halloween activities and have a “Trick or Treat” session from about 4:00 pm to around 6:00 pm. During that time parents bring their children to the mall to go from store to store where treats are handed out to them. The larger malls here in Cali can have upwards of 80 stores and shops making for quite a “haul” if the little tykes can hold out long enough to hit the majority of them. Costumes and make up run the gauntlet from queens, fairies, princesses and folk costumes through a menagerie of animals, cartoon characters, super-heroes (Batman, Wonder Woman and Spiderman predominate) to pirates, Jedi, wizards (look out Harry Potter) kings and Ninjas. Vampires and soldiers are generally frowned upon. There are Halloween parties held at many homes in the evening too featuring Cali’s music of choice – Salsa. Have you ever seen Spiderman dancing Salsa with a Power-Puff Girl? It’s a real hoot. It’s no wonder teaching English in Colombia continues to be so interesting.

On the day after Halloween, “All Saints Day” or the “Day of the Dead” is celebrated, but that my friends, is another story.