More or less, we’ve found a place for ourselves here in Vienna. We know our neighbors, we have friends, the boys attend a great school, we’re learning the customs and the language. In the more than 2 1/2 years that we’ve been here, we’ve learned how to make ourselves comfortable here. And while the internal sense of “otherness” never really goes away, I don’t walk around feeling constantly out of place (anymore). We’re not locals, but we’re not tourists. We live here, we’re not just visiting.
So it’s been a while since I felt really “foreign” here in Vienna. But nothing will remind you of being from elsewhere more than celebrating a holiday that doesn’t really exist where you now live.
That’s how Halloween felt for us this year — almost like we were having our own little celebration of it. Halloween is catching on here, but slowly, and only with certain demographics — mostly older school children, teenagers and college students (who don’t need much excuse to celebrate anything). There are a few painted pumpkins for sale at the grocery store, and a few gift and flower shops have a few black and orange items for sale, but mostly, Halloween is only vaguely thought of in Vienna.
Undaunted, and wanting to bring my kids along in some of my favorite family traditions, we decorated, had costumes sent over by Grandma, and planned to trick-or-treat again. Halloween morning, the boys chose their favorite Halloween shirts to wear to school, and when we arrived, we reminded the teachers that it was Halloween. As the only Americans at the entire school, my kids were the only festive ones, which was a little weird. I really wanted to enjoy Halloween to the fullest, though, so after I dropped the boys off at school, I stopped by our local toy store to ask them if they would fill up some Halloween balloons (bought on Amazon — no such thing in Vienna) with helium. They were happy to help, and actually had a small but good selection of costumes and Halloween items. I picked up a bag of fake spiderwebs (and spiders!) and a battery-operated flashing jack-o-lantern (since our actual jack-o-lanterns were already beginning to fall apart). Surprisingly, for such a non-holiday here in Austria, they were having a bit of a run on Halloween items at the toy store, and my balloons caught a lot of interest. The shop keeper insisted that I come back next year to do my Halloween shopping, instead of shopping on Amazon — “We will have lots of things next year!” she assured me. So it looks like it may actually be catching on more and more.
We celebrated this year, again, by getting in our costumes (Liam, who had been practicing in his earlier in the week around the house, happily refused to wear his on the big night) and heading out to the “American area” of Vienna, out near the American school on the western edges of the city. For the first time, we didn’t get lost getting out there, and even met a young woman on the bus who emigrated here from McLean, VA (just like us) the same year that we arrived. Our trick-or-treat experience was almost identical to last year. We visited about a dozen houses before the kids got worn out. Some of the houses were spooky and festive, while some were so plain and quiet that we wouldn’t have known to stop by unless we’d seen other kids there before us. Again, the average age of a trick-or-treater was very high, and we only saw a few little (elementary school aged) kids, and only one other as young as Liam. Also, like last year, the older, Austrian kids did not do a good job of waiting and being patient with the little ones, and they again demonstrated a penchant for showering the neighborhood with shaving cream and silly string. And, again, there was very little parental supervision of the older children (American and Austrian alike — not surprising, as kids over the age of 8 or 9 here typically travel all over the city on their own). And that is all fine, just different. We had a really nice time. We visited friendly people who chatted with the boys about their costumes, and we spent the entire evening speaking entirely in English (which was a fun change for an outing). We met one group of Americans that had set up a bonfire and a table of hot cider and soup for trick-or-treaters and their parents. It was, definitely, a different experience than we would have had in the States, but a very fun and pleasant one.
Truly, though, I miss home and my family on Halloween. Decorating the house in preparation for my boys’ arrival at home made me wish they could be around my mom, and my sister, and my entire family on Halloween. My family really does Halloween very enthusiastically. I felt like I was channeling a bit of that with my spooky decorations (which the kids just loved). I wish we could trick-or-treat with family, stopping by the houses of people we know and love, or hand out candy to other dressed up little ones. I wish the boys’ school had a parade or a party. I wish that most of the other kids trick-or-treating were little, like they are, and that everyone was in costume. I wish they could see the fantastic, over-the-top way that someone always decorates their house. I miss Halloween at home.
I really was reminded of being “from somewhere else” on Halloween, but there were so many little things that were so nice. Finding the cobwebs and spiders at the store, having the shop owner help me out by filling the balloons, the teachers at school making a point of wishing the boys “Happy Halloween!”, the jack-o-lanterns and spooky decorations at the houses we visited, the warm, inclusive feeling of being among other Americans (even if they were strangers, it didn’t feel like it) on this very American holiday. And we were lucky to have great trick-or-treating weather on top of it all (no snow this year!). Halloween is a day I miss home, most certainly, but we had a great, and festive, holiday here this year, as well.