My favorite part about Russian Halloween is how they pronounce it. “Happy Hell-u-ween”
I’m not keen on Halloween, but its my duty as practically the only American in Astrakhan and a young ambassador to spread the Halloween joy, or fear I suppose.
I first entertained Halloween party at the local Japanese Restaurant, Sushi.Ru. This place loves to have themed parties and they host a new one about every month. The idea is good and fun, if the guests reflects those ideals. For some unknown reason my friends wanted me there like hours ahead of time; I practiced my pumpkin drawing skills on a piece of paper. At about 7:30 the guests sort of stopped trickling in, and so the party began. In general there were not that many people there, but enough to play a few games and get people to dance. The first thing I noticed was the music. If they Russians got the decorating and games just about right, they really messed up on the music. The dude was playing Edna, Russian Hits, and some random American pop songs. He threw in a few Halloween jams, but really missed some traditional goodies. There were some costumes; the staff had their faces painted, the hosts were all dressed up, and a few of the guests brought their favorite costumes, probably from previous years. Of course, no Russian party in a family restaurant would be complete without strip tease. Yes they had real strip tease. What I noticed most of all, I mean aside from the fact that the girl was practically naked, was that almost all the guests were couples and yet lots of guys were taping the strip tease. I imagine the girlfriend said something to the following effect: “yes, go ahead honey and tape the girl who’s shirtless and in a thong. In fact make sure you use HD.” I later asked someone a question regarding the “spectacle” and he said, “well they’re probably taping it to just put it on the internet or something.” There was even a family there with little kids. The mom took her son into the bathroom and the dad stayed behind to enjoy the show. After the spectacle, they played a semi-successful mummy game, and then I was on stage for pumpkin carving. So I was supposed to show these three guys how to carve pumpkins. However, the host introduced me and was like – “say something about Halloween.” HUH? I wasn’t prepared for that, so I mumbled something and someone asked me to say something in English. And then we carved pumpkins. Well I tried to; …. a few notes on Russian pumpkins: they are thick, like five times thicker than our pumpkins, thus so hard to cut; they are green; they are small. It worked out because the men took over, had their mini-competition, and I just “over-saw”. I then made friends with this little eight-year old boy who was insistent on playing the blow-out-the-candle-relight-blow-out game, which was entertaining for me for about five point two seconds. Furthermore he insisted on following me around and hitting me when I wouldn’t pay attention to him. I took one of the pumpkins home for temporary decorations.
Sunday I attended another Halloween event a private language school for little kids. Approximately twenty kids showed up with parents awkwardly and interestingly starring at us from the entry way. The kids were all dressed up in true Halloween spirit. First Warren another American living in Russia, described Halloween to the kids. We explained trick-or-treating and then had them show of their costumes. We then gave them each “prizes” or “awards” for their costumes, and they trick-or-treated us for candy. Then we showed them how to carve pumpkins. This pumpkin turned out a lot better, for me at least. Essentially, I carved the pumpkin while the kids and even one mom circled around me, asking me question after question.
“Do you have a TV!?”
The mom really loved that one. The girls asked me for a picture and then the mom wanted one too. There is always a few kids in every group I really take a liking to and there was this one shy little guy in a vampire costume. I made sure he got the best prize because he seemed so shy and nervous. As he left he said “bye” about ten times. This other little girl had to wait longer for her mother, so she would walk over to where I was sitting, stand there for a few seconds, and then return to her seat. She did this a few times in a row until I finally told her to come sit by me.
At first when I go to events like this I don’t really realize what I’m doing. I sort of just “do my duty.” But every time, as the students are leaving they throw these compliments at me, which literally leave me stunned. “you’re so cool!” “We like you so much!” “you’re so nice!” These make me reflect on the actual impact I have made on these young kids (and even adults!) in such a short period of time. The realization that who you are – simply by nationality can have such an effect on someone is a powerful tool and should be used with great care and awareness not to be abused. I’ve started to understand that it’s such a gift to these kids, to be able to meet someone from America! Who has actually celebrated Halloween. I asked to come back again.