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The Expats Down Under: Halloween Tales from Australia and Singapore

When your spouse walks in from work one day and says, “My boss wants to know if we are willing to move overseas,” the first question that pops into your mind is “REALLY? What kind of unique experiences and exciting opportunities could there be for us and our children?” The possible answers to this question flood into your mind by the dozens. But it’s the second question you ask yourself that grabs your heart and makes you stop in your impulsive tracks: “What will my children have to give up if we go? What will they miss out on here if we are there, and what childhood memories will they go without?”


It will be that question that lingers in the back of your mind through every step of the decision-making process; the question that will cause you to do things like send your spouse back to the boss to try and negotiate for a few more feet of container space so the Christmas decorations, the Halloween costumes, the Thanksgiving centerpiece and the Easter Baskets can fit in the shipment.


I think most parents really are passionate about making sure their children’s lives are packed with small but precious memories, especially surrounding holidays. They want to re-create their own wonderful childhood, or perhaps give their children something they never had. This desire is never stronger than when your family is living outside their own country and comfort zone.


I still remember the Halloween thirteen years ago when we moved from New Jersey to Australia with our four daughters, ages twelve to three. While the scenery was breathtaking and the culture shock mild (hardly more than a move from New York to California), it was a quite disorienting to have the seasons flipped upside down so that Easter was now in the Fall and yes, Halloween was in the Spring.


As October’s spring flowers bloomed, it was very evident that there would be no acknowledgment of Halloween at all in Sydney. The sweet little school costume parades and the ceremonious carving of the pumpkins were not to be. Hmm…


So what does a passionate young mother do in such situations with a house full of young children who have not forgotten what time of year it is supposed to be? Though not sure yet how to handle things yet, I did let them decide on costumes as usual. We knew several American families and we decided to have a little Halloween get-together.


“But what about Trick or Treating?” they asked (gulp).


“Well, let’s see what we can work out,” I said, smiling so optimistically.


Then next thing I knew I was calling the three or four American families to see if we could drive around and trick or treat at their homes. But that would make for a short evening. We needed just a bit more to have a respectable Halloween experience. So I ran to the store to get a few bags of my kids’ favorite candies.


On Halloween morning I went knocking on the doors of several of our closest Australian neighbors and began explaining to them what trick-or-treating entailed.


“Would you be able to put this bag of candy in a bowl by your front door? Then tonight about 7:00 my children will come by, in costume, and when they ring the doorbell door, you answer it—holding the bowl of candy—and they will say, “trick or treat!” and then you will tell them how wonderful they look and then let them each get a piece of candy from the bowl and put it in their bag. Then say, ‘Happy Halloween’! And they will go on to the next house. Is that okay?”


Their response to this? Thankfully, I encountered nothing but the most cheerful replies, “Yes of course it sounds like fun!” Whew, they were on board—some of them were even excited. Nothing like throwing a crazy American family in the neighborhood to liven things up.


So am I the only expat mom who would do something like that? Hardly. After three years in Sydney we were transferred to Singapore, where you would think Halloween would be even more difficult to pull off, right? We were in for a surprise.


Our neighborhood was on the north side of the island, just across the bridge from Malaysia. Around the corner was the Singapore American School, which had over 4000 kids attending from pre-school through high school. About 50 percent were from the US. All those moms, just like me, were raising their children abroad and encouraging them to enjoy and embrace every country they had the chance to live in or visit. Still, we couldn’t help anticipating the next holiday and making sure the memories happened.


The first thing I learned was that the PTA was shipping in a container load of orange pumpkins from the US. The PTA offices on campus would soon be transformed into a fabulous “pumpkin patch” complete with scarecrows and all the trimmings. Each family could “pick” one pumpkin per child from the patch. Though the tropical climate year round meant you could never tell one month from another, for a moment it was Autumn and you were somewhere very happy and familiar.


I soon heard that living in our particular neighborhood right there next to the school—and in homes and townhomes rather than apartments—meant all of the Singapore expat community, plus many of the locals, knew this was the place to be on Halloween night.


Never has giving out candy been such an extravaganza. It was all hands on deck as our 4 daughters and now one son joined us on the front porch as kids and parents poured through our gates in groups of about 25 at a time. I had been warned in advance to stock up with more than a thousand pieces of candy, but thought surely they must be exaggerating. Not so. We had given out a thousand pieces of candy in less than an hour and we were out. Time to raid my personal private chocolate stash in the house, as we were scrambled to keep our doors open for as long as possible. I’ve never seen adults and children having so much fun. The atmosphere was truly electric.


With each season and every holiday, I saw the expat parents making sure the essentials were there. On Valentines Day I arrived at the school to witness a absolute sea of moms, decked out in shades of pink, red and white and adorned in heart earrings, carrying craft bags and treat trays for all the class parties. And so it went.


Here we are, four countries and fourteen years later. Just this year we came full circle and moved back to Australia. Some things have changed. It’s Halloween and there are actually some orange pumpkins for sale in the major grocery stores. They even have a section of aisle devoted to Halloween paraphernalia. My high school daughter tells me that she heard everyone goes to a couple of streets to do trick-or-treating (so I won’t need to run around to the neighbors). I’m home decorating cupcakes to be shared with friends from all over the globe who have found a home here in Sydney at the moment. More memories to be made, so from our little corner of the world, Happy Halloween!


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