Trick or Treating in the Holy Land

The first time I celebrated Halloween abroad was in college when I spent a semester in India. Unsure what to do with ourselves but resolute in our determination to acknowledge the pagan holiday in one way or another, we got gussied up and went to a fancy bar on the rooftop of a luxury hotel. I think we put a little decoration of some sort in the corner, but otherwise our celebrations were subtle, internal.

Growing up in the heart of New York City, Halloween was one of the most exciting days of the year. Trick or treating (which I tried to do well into my teens) meant going from shop to shop and floor to floor in large apartment buildings. The raucous, televised Halloween parade took place on my doorstep. Depending on what day of the week Halloween falls, the festivities could last a week or more.

Last year I spent my second Halloween abroad, this time in Israel. And this time our expat community went whole hog on the merriment with a full-scale costume party. We imported candy corn and cobwebs from loved ones in the US and made finger-shaped cookies, orange-sprinkled cupcakes, and put eyeballs in the hummus. We marched to our friend’s house dressed as zombies and American television characters, Mormons and Ninja Turtles, Minnie Mouse and Mr. T.

While Israelis celebrate Purim—a similar dress-up holiday—they react to costumed people in October the same way Americans would in March: with more than a little bewilderment. So it’s no surprise that we were met with amusement when we pranced into the dance club late at night, make-up smeared and costumes askew. The Israeli revelers asked, earnestly, if one girl dressed as a female pharaoh was a Bedouin. They asked another friend, also sincerely, if we were part of a psychology experiment. No one was sure what to make of us. But we all had a great time and dance dance dance danced the night away.

And now it’s time for our second Halloween in Israel. We’re preparing to take to the streets in our dress-up clothes and perplex our Israeli neighbors once again. Everyone has done their best to pull together outfits without Halloween stores, make-up, and pre-fab costumes. There will be candy and cupcakes and merriment, a group of expats reveling in a boisterous celebration of home.

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