Monday, November 11, 2019

Haunting Ecuador with Halloween, Part 1

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and last year I didn't celebrate, choosing instead to watch and observe what happens on All Hallows' Eve in this predominantly Catholic country.  
Mostly nothing.  

Since horror movies are big here, the majority of Ecuadorians know about Halloween.  There are a few masks and costumes sold in the cheap-crap-from-China shops, and young adults crowd the discotheques for Halloween-themed parties.  But overall, Ecuadorians don't understand the holiday and are a little shy to celebrate.  It's also important to know that October 31st is a national holiday in Ecuador honoring the shield, or emblem, of their country.  So, many Ecuadorians think that on this day they should choose to celebrate their own country rather than the traditions of the United States.  Fair enough.

So... this year I asked if I could celebrate Halloween on October 30th instead, and I received the support of my smaller high school to host a Halloween Celebration for all the students.

I started our event with a formal presentation about the history of Halloween.  And yes, I had to do some research on it myself.  What I learned from several sources was that people from all over the world have always believed that during the end of October and the beginning of November, the "curtain" between the "world of the dead" and the "world of the living" is at its thinnest.  Here in Latin America, people took that to mean that during these days their ancestors were near, and it was a good time to honor them during celebrations that came to be known as Día de Los Muertos or here in Ecuador, Día de Los Difuntos celebrated on November 2nd.  But in Europe, people decided that having the "world of the dead" close by, meant that witches, ghosts and goblins from that other world might enter the human world.  And for that reason, they started to dress up in scary costumes and illuminate the night by putting candles in turnips or squash.  Over the centuries, people stopped believing in ghosts and witches, but then neighbors tried to play scary tricks on each other.  To convince tricksters from striking, people started offering candy or food instead.  Eventually, as Europeans migrated to North America, they brought with them these strange customs of costumes, pumpkins and trick-or-treating.  So, as I told my students, our Halloween celebrations honor these ancient traditions.... but really, it's about the creativity, the fun and the candy.  

After my presentation, the fun began.  I had coached each class, 8th grade and above, on how to develop and host a traditional fall-festival kind of game or activity.  I also encouraged them to bring candy to give out as prizes for their games. During the festival, while they traded time in their "booth" with their classmates, the rest of the students, 5th grade and above, were able to participate in all the activities.  I started things off with a demonstration on How to Carve a Squash.

Bryan, a senior, haunted us all with Halloween Music. 
Doris, a 5th grade teacher, ran my Pin-The-Tail-on-the-Cat Station.

The Seniors created an Apple Bobbing Station and a Monster Ball Toss Game.
The Juniors got into the spirit with their Ghost Bowling Game.  They weren't supposed to dress up for this festival (since the Rectora and I weren't exactly sure how parents would react), 
but they just couldn't help but get into the fun!

The 8th Graders created a Witches' Hat Ring Toss Game.
The Sophomores created Mystery Boxes to feel the "Brains of Frankenstein",
"Toad Eyeballs", or "Mummy Guts".

The 9th Graders hosted a Balloon Popping Race, and a Cookie Face Race Game, and the 10th Graders created a very dark and very scary
- too scary for school -
Haunted House.

That was a big hit!

And while we were celebrating, some moms from the school showed up to layer a little of Ecuadorian culture into our Halloween Festival.  They cooked all morning in our courtyard, and after the kids cleaned up the party, each student was served a cup of rich, steamy and fruity-sweet Colada Morada, a traditional drink for Día de Los Difuntos.  It was a great way to 
circle our celebration back to Ecuador. 

I was very proud of my students.  They were so creative in designing their games and willing to learn about, and participate in, all the fun around Halloween.  Some of the staff told me they want to have an even bigger celebration next year!

Haunting Ecuador with Halloween, Part 2

Sometime in September, I mentioned to Margarita and Jose that I wanted to host a Halloween Party to share the traditions of Halloween with my Ecuadorian family.  Once I showed Margarita all the creative decorations, food and costume ideas on Pinterest, she was hooked!  We worked daily for the next month to make this holiday come alive.  

First, we set the party date for November 1st, again avoiding the Ecuadorian holiday on the 31st.  Then we made these adorable invitations and hand delivered them, along with a friendly popsicle- spider as a party reminder, to family and friends.  Immediately, several members of Margarita's family agreed to drive up from Quito, and several members of Jose's family here in Ibarra agreed to come as well.

Then, we worked all month to create a variety of decorations for our outdoor patio.  Luckily paper and crepe paper are easy to come by in this country and we even found some stretchy spider-webbing at a costume shop.

The food, of course, was the main event.  I made a skeleton vegetable pizza that ended up being a hit. The best part of it all was that nobody had ever eaten raw broccoli or raw mushrooms before, 
and they really liked them!  

We had ghostly fruit sticks and ghostly lollipops. 

Geletin is a common drink here, so we "scarified" it with some gummy worms.  Then we decorated chocolate cupcakes (not so common here) with worms and marshmallow eyeballs.
I also made packets of Caramel Corn complete with some candy corns my niece had brought me from the States.  Oops, forgot to take a photo!

Finally, we had this great plan to also serve severed fingers (hot dogs) and mummies (pigs-in-a-blanket), but we were having so much fun at the party, we forgot to cook and serve them!

After the majority of guests arrived and played my Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Cat game, I introduced them all to the art of carving a squash.  I had to search the mercado for six good-sized squash to carve, and then negotiate with the vendor.  All six for $20, and the bag to carry them for free, thank you!  She thought I was crazy, but I bet she was glad to not have to carry them home.  They were heavy!

So, with little explanation, my family paired up and jumped in with all their energy to cut and clean their squash in a race to design the most unique face.  They had so much fun!

First, the dad's jumped in to do some initial cutting.
Jose had the added advantage of doing this with me last year! 
Luis and Erik, Margarita's brothers, were very serious about their creation.
Neyser, Carlos and Pablo loved the goo...
Brandon and Alisson, Margarita's Brother and Sister-in-Law,
used my templates to choose a face with their little Israel.
Susy, Johana, Marjory and Jessy, divided and conquered with one person cleaning
and another cutting out the face. 
Tío Sergio, Jose's Brother, and his son David were the first to finish. 
Tía Jenny was proud of what her boys had created. 
My brother Alex and his dad, Jose, showing off the family creation. 
For first time pumpkin carvers, I think my family did a great job!

At some point in the party, I saw my little brother Pablo digging into the basket of candy and on a whim I grabbed it up and said, "Let's learn how to do this the traditional way!"  I took him to the door of my bedroom, and made him knock and say, "Trick or Treat?"

Mateo, Israel, Carlos, Sebastian and Pablo thought this game was great.  
We played it again and again!
Finally, I got tired of playing "Trick or Treat", so Pablo took over answering the door and over the course of the next thirty minutes, the kids played so many times, they handed out all the candy!

For a Halloween challenge, I created some Boxes of Mystery.  I made my guests reach their hand into a hole in the box to touch something they couldn't see.  Ramen noodles made great "Brains", while the seeds of a Granadilla fruit worked as "Toad Eyeballs".  Cold salsa became the "Stomach Contents of a Mummy", and a rubbery, cooked beet was "Frankenstein's Liver". 

The Mystery Boxes added a lot of suspense and laughter to the night. 

For the final event, Margarita had made a skull piñata, and of course filled it with candy. 

They don't use bats to pummel their piñatas here in Ecuador.  They smartly have a pull cord attached to a trap-door at the bottom of the piñata.  The candy flies, and piñata is still intact.
It was so much fun to share Halloween with my Ecuadorian Family!  
Margarita had made a photo frame to capture the moments. She's squished in here with her brother Ivan, her mom, Elvita, her brother Brandon, her son Alex, and husband Jose.  
Even some Hollywood horror characters made it to our party!
My partner in crime, my Ecuadorian sister, my friend.
Thank you Margarita for not only making all of this possible,
but for loving Halloween- and a good party- as much as I do!  
Happy Halloween from Ecuador!