I started fretting about Halloween all the way back in August. I can’t help it. Halloween is my least favorite holiday. Ever.
I should say that my first ever Halloween started off with a bang. Twenty-five years ago on October 31, my family immigrated to the United States. We left war-torn Iran, packing all our necessities into a few suitcases, and literally left in the middle of the night without telling anyone (except close relatives) where were going.
We flew to Rome via Frankfurt (on Lufthansa, my father’s favorite airline because 50 years ago a flight attendant gave him a dry cleaning ticket after she spilled a drink on him). For some reason, all Iranian citizens who want to immigrate to the United States have to handle all their paperwork through the American Embassy in Rome. And so we started our journey into the strange new land amidst cobblestone streets and visits to Pompeii.
I celebrated my ninth birthday in a hotel room and blew out the candles on a beautiful cake—only to be sorely disappointed at my first bite of the liquor-drenched confection.
And after ten days of bureaucratic craziness interspersed with incredibly normal tourist activities (and meals consisting of rotisserie chickens and Fanta), we finally made our way to Dallas, Texas, to the home of an aunt.
We landed on U.S. soil on October 31, 1986.
The sight of people dressed up as cowboys and Indians at the airport was strange and unforgettable. So unforgettable, in fact, that the airport scene was the intro to every college essay my sister wrote. It served her well, too—she got into Cornell and Berkeley only four years after coming to the U.S. without knowing a lick of English. Sorry, had to brag on her behalf.
But when we got to my aunt’s house, there was an even better surprise: candy. Strewn everywhere. On the welcome mat, in the entryway…everywhere.
I could get to like this new country.
Fast-forward one year, when my ten-year old self was learning English and trying to make friends in the fifth grade in a new school in Northern California. Everyone was asking excitedly, “What will you be for Halloween?”
And I had no idea what the heck Halloween was. And who wants to admit that to new friends in fifth grade? Without any help from Google, I figured out that it was a holiday that required one to dress up in a costume.
At the time, my incredibly educated father and mother were working in a gas station and washing lab implements, respectively, so it wasn’t really the time to ask for an extravagant costume. So I did what any imaginative kid would do: I raided the house and found something I could use for a costume. I studded an old sweater with as many safety pins as I could find, and went to school in my “costume” as….well, I’m not really sure. A kid in a safety-pin-studded sweater, I guess.
As far as I remember, the day in school went off without a hitch. But I had no idea about what was yet to come: trick or treating.
It turned out, neither did my parents.
The stream of kids coming to the house either made them nervous or uncomfortable, and perhaps both. We turned off the lights and pretended we weren’t home. We didn’t have any candy to hand out. Why were little kids begging for candy, anyway? What was wrong with this country?
Since then, I’ve lived through 23 Halloweens (but who’s counting, right?). Eight were spent in Italy, so there was no worrying about costumes or stock-piling candy. In Italia, October 31 would come and go just like any other day of the year.
I can’t say that I have fabulous memories from the remaining 15. There was the one year when I was an undergrad at Berkeley, when my friends and I went to the craziness of the Castro party in San Francisco. What I remember the most about that night was running at breakneck speeds so we could catch the last train back to Berkeley.
At parties, I’m generally the annoying girl without a costume, saying I’m dressed up as myself. That is, if I’m even invited to a Halloween party.
My Italian-born husband, A, is no help whatsoever with this Halloween quandary. Since he didn’t grow up in the U.S. either, he doesn’t understand what the big deal is. And since he has a Y chromosome, he’s not crazy about chocolate. So Halloween really says nothing to him.
Last year was our daughter P’s first Halloween, and it was probably the most memorable to date. I splurged and bought her an adorable ladybug costume. We dressed her up and took her to my sister’s house to show her off.
Then we went to a pumpkin patch, where we took her picture with a gazillion pumpkins and in a pumpkin chariot.
We looked just like a typical, All-American family.
And that night, when trick-or-treaters came by, I opened the door, made appropriate comments about their costumes, and doled out handfuls of Kit Kats and Snickers. Oh, the lessons had been learned.
I have to admit that a part of me still cringed every time the doorbell rang. In a few years, I look forward to accompanying P in her first trick-or-treat adventure. If I act uncomfortable doing it, it’s because it will also be my first time going trick-or-treating.
This post originally appeared on Third Culture in August. Third Culture is a blog about M, and Iranian-American, her husband, A, an Italian, and their American-born daughter, P.