On Halloween

Let’s rewind back to October for this post.

A couple of weeks ago I went out to another village to help a couple of other Peace Corps volunteers with a Halloween party they organized for local youth.  Overall, it was a great turnout, they had lots of activities – pin the face on the pumpkin, face-painting, a mummy race, and an “Ewww, what’s that?” station where kids stuck their hands into gross stuff like “brains” (spaghetti) and “eyeballs” (grapes).

They also had lots of candy and extra costumes on hand so kids could show up and pick out something from the pile.  There were 11 Peace Corps volunteers to help out, and a Moldovan teenager manned the music.  It was a good time.

All of that said, I wanted to share a bit about the Moldovan perspective of Halloween.

Moldova is a very religion-oriented country.  Something like 90 percent of the population is Orthodox, and the remaining number is generally some denomination of Christianity/Protestantism (Baptist, Catholic, etc.).  It’s very common for someone to ask what religion you are, people automatically assume you believe in God, and Peace Corps volunteers who identify themselves agnostic or atheist have a very difficult time getting host country nationals to understand what that means.  On many street corners in villages throughout the country, you find what I might call an alter – usually a portrayal of Christ on the cross meant to protect people passing by.

Considering the influence of religion, it is understandable why many Moldovans might not view Halloween very favorably.  And though my we were able to successfully organize a Halloween party in one village, other localities were not as ready to embrace the American holiday.  Through the volunteer grapevine, I heard a few stories of village priests objecting to similar events on the grounds that Halloween is a holiday of the devil, and they would not allow that kind of celebration in the village.  I also had an interesting conversation with someone who works in my building.  Though he knows that Americans and some countries in Western Europe celebrate Halloween (he lived in Ireland for a period of time), he explained that many Moldovans do, in fact, consider it an evil holiday–a satanic celebration.

I offered my input, that, for my parents and my family, it was more like a community holiday.  We carved pumpkins, all the kids in the neighborhood dress up as fun and different characters, and we all walked door-to-door with our parents saying “trick-or-treat” hoping to collect a mountain of candy in return.

But it was interesting to hear perspectives from a different culture.  Part of our responsibility as Peace Corps volunteers is to share and create a better understanding of American culture abroad.  And I’m glad I had the opportunity to share my experience of Halloween as a kid in the States.  But there are also some cultural norms or nuances that just don’t work in another country.  They just don’t translate.  And that’s okay.  Moldova doesn’t have to celebrate Halloween.  However, I do hope we can continue to share that, for Americans, Halloween may mean different things to different people.

That said, I will accept any leftover or on-sale Halloween candy from the states at the following address!

Peace Corps Moldova
PCV Jennifer Kitson
#12 Grigore Ureche Str.
2001 Chișinau, MOLDOVA