miércoles, 5 de noviembre de 2008


This year Halloween involved costumes, sharing Reese's and spider rings sent by my mom, reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” with my ESL students, dancing with Chancos del Monte (rock band that includes the school's board president), an international teachers' party with 'bloody' toilet paper streamers, and pumpkin cookies that Anna and I made with super cute Martha Stewart cookie cutters that Jenn brought back from the States.

Good times. But one of the most interesting things was the reaction the Halloween celebrations got from many Ticos and questions it raised for me about the origins of the holiday and why we celebrate the way we do. I was repeatedly told that it was a Satanic holiday. One person said she really wanted to go to see the band at Bar Amigos, but would not because advertised as a Halloween party, and did not want people to think that she worships Satan or had anything to do with Halloween. I explained my vague understanding of the word “Halloween” originating from “All Hallow's Eve” or “All Saint's Day”, a Catholic celebration and that the holiday also takes some traditions from pagan (Druid?) harvest festival (celebrating lots of food...eating candy). I realized that I'm really not sure myself what we're celebrating or why. Interesting side note, the Spanish translation is “Día de las Brujas” or “Witches' Day”, which may partially shape (and/or reflect) how the holiday and it's celebrations are perceived by Spanish speakers.

Which is not as interesting as the staff meeting on Wednesday, when Anna asked whether students should be allowed to wear costumes to school, and led to a debate that ended with the decision not to celebrate the holiday in school. Tico teachers said don't celebrate because not part of Costa Rican culture. But students know that it exists, because of television and tourists/expats (bars advertise costume parties for us gringos). The only reason folks would want to wear costumes is to show off how much money they have. Or (for high school girls), to show off their bodies. And school has a policy against junk food. And that many parents see holiday as a Satanic celebration and would misinterpret our allowing students to wear costumes, so would need to explain why celebrating, but that would be difficult to communicate beforehand, and better to not recognize Halloween, but possibly have a costume day at some other time during the year since dressing up can be fun.

I wonder why we don't use this as an opportunity to teach about U.S. culture, offer a different view of U.S. culture than Disney channel, have U.S. students share experiences, learn a bit of history, consider religious influences on holiday, talk about what is scary, why people like being scared, why people like disguises, and so on. In my ESL class, I asked students to interview a U.S. student or teacher about how they celebrated Halloween in the past and plans for celebrating in Monteverde. I shared my favorite candy (Reese's sent by my mom), and we read a scary story or read about “ghost hunting”. And I know that could create more interesting Halloween-themed lessons with more thought and planning. I think it is a shame to ignore an opportunity for cultural exchange like this, and want to think about how we could celebrate as a school next year (starting the conversation earlier than 2 days before).

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