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  • Liz Totton

What’s Halloween Without a Fright?


American “Halloween” pumpkins cost a mint here. So, if I had chosen to be crafty this year, I would have done this!


About the time you were getting to school in the US, our Halloween was already done here in Abu Dhabi. What? You may ask. There is Halloween in Abu Dhabi? There sure is, but it’s very different. Our kids’ school, GEMS American Academy, had a Harvest Festival last night from 5-8pm. The girls were very excited about it. After all, it would be their only shot at the mountains of candy they usually collect at home.

What is a Harvest Festival? Well, I didn’t know, but it’s definitely not what I am used to doing on Halloween. I can tell you that it’s not supposed to be scary. I also knew that there was no way on earth that trick or treating for the parents would be accompanied by a glass of wine. What is Halloween for kids without a good fright? What is Halloween for parents without a glass of wine? I cannot even imagine. Keeping the spooky out of Halloween is like trick or treating in the broad light of day, never worrying about the zombie that might be hiding behind the tree, a ghoul creeping behind you, or a razor blade in your apple. Wait! Scratch that one–that might have been real, or it might have been an urban legend. Check out Snopes, if you remember or care. Dunno. Anyway, It sounded just a bit too wholesome for me, but when in Abu Dhabi, you do as the locals do and thank some higher being they do it in the first place, right?! They don’t have to.

Every year in Olympia, Washington, we went to our fantastic friends’ home for Halloween—they have a perfectly dark, labyrinthine neighborhood for Halloween. The parents in the neighborhood take it seriously; it’s a lot of fun for kids and adults alike. Helping to make it more palatable for the adults is the generous selection of wine at said friends’ home and the company, but of course not in that order. We have a nice meal, the kids play, we talk, and then finally when it’s dark enough, we commence the Halloween fun. 

Trick or Treating the Governor’s mansion. Perk of living in a capitol city.


The kids dress in scary costumes. They try to spook each other or younger children. They amass a mind-blowing array of candy. Last year at the end of trick or treating, we even went to meet the former governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire, who every year opens the Governor’s mansion up to children and takes pictures with them. In short, it’s a big, fun night for the whole family. Back home, Darcy & Trevor put on hands down the best Halloween ever. I knew tonight would not measure up, but this is just one example of the small things you give up when you leave your home country. You gain so much in the exchange, but these little things burn in the moment.

Well, last night was kind of different not too surprisingly. Gems’ parent organization, GAAPA, works very hard to put on an amazing festival for the kids in lieu of Halloween. It is a tall order trying to re-create a holiday that does not exist in a country and offer it to a student population representing over sixty countries with very different religions and ideas of what is scary or appropriate. Not to mention the fact that the ages of kids at the school ranges from 3 – 18. So, I knew it that I should not compare it to US Halloween. I felt very fortunate that they held an event at all, since it is really just an American holiday. 

Skye got an apple! Haven’t seen one of those in a candy bag since the late 70s’ razor blade thing. Have you?


The girls were so excited to dress up. Lucie wanted to be a pirate lass, so she could wear a parrot on her shoulder. Skye wanted to be a bloody zombie vampire. She is 12 and wants to look fierce and scary. Well, Skye’s costume didn’t happen. At the last moment, a person, who is probably pretty unfamiliar with what Halloween actually is, complained that zombies, vampires and ghosts were too scary for little kids–that might be true. A hazard of putting on any event for a school that spans KG (preschool in the US) to grade 11 is that no one is going to be perfectly satisfied. If the costumes are non-threatening and wholesome enough for KG kids, then middle and high school kids will be bored out of their minds. If the costumes and activities are too scary, you have crying little kids, and who wants that? This was also true for the games. The kids had to play games for candy, so they had to really be committed to achieve a Halloween bag filled anywhere near US bad, old, dark neighborhood candy numbers. My girls had other obligations apparently to do because after eating probably half their plunder, this is what was left–slim Halloween pickins. The scariest thing there was a plastic spider or maybe an ill-fitting costume on some un-self-conscious adult. Yup, you know that mom.

Fright delight. Doubt I could find them here though.


On the whole, the harvest festival was more fun than I expected. Just like in the US, the kids went their separate way, collected candy, socialized and had the time of their lives. Just like in the US, the parents stood on the sidelines also socializing, watching the kids have fun, laughing, and having cross cultural connections but, unlike in the US, it was without wine. I am not sure how I feel about that last part. I can live without it, but Trick or Treating is a lot more fun for parents with wine, isn’t it? Perhaps many parental obligations are more palatable with wine? I suspect this notion is as lost on the small, but vocal, percentage of my neighbors and fellow school parents as was the idea of Halloween being just a wee bit scary. Oh well! 

#AbuDhabiHalloween #Olympia #WA #ChristineGregoire #Wine #HalloweenCandy #harvestfestival

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