Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Trees changing color. Sweater weather. The signs of Halloween rolling around are as unmistakable in Denmark as they are in the US. And with American influence, the celebration of Halloween is also almost identical! This Halloween, my visiting host family invited me to join them for dinner and trick-or-treating with the kids, aged 11, 6, and 4. Between dressing up in an uncomfortable costume, seeking out the houses with the fanciest decorations, and rummaging through the candy pail to find the best candy, the experience took me right back to my childhood.
For dinner, we had a full table. Me and Aaron, another DIS student, weren’t the only guests – we were also joined by my host mom Merthe’s mother and sister. We had a great discussion about some of the subtler cultural differences between Halloween in Denmark and the US. For example, Danish costumes are always scary – Danes don’t dress up as doctors, fairies, or celebrities! We also got to talk about contentious issues in the upcoming election – it was great to hear the perspectives of Danish voters themselves. Like in any good party, we ordered pizza from the local pizzeria for dinner. My vegan pizza featured a Danish specialty topping – thin slices of roasted potato. After trying it numerous times over the semester, I can confidently say I’m a fan!
Although we were in a bit of a food coma, we managed to get ourselves up for trick-or-treating. The weather Gods were kind to us this time – there was no rain, and the temperature was milder than it had been. After meeting up with a few of their friends in the neighborhood, the kids were off to hit as many houses as they could. Aaron and I found ourselves midway between the excited kids running from doorstep to doorstep to collect candy and the exhausted parents trudging along behind them! I soon learned that you don’t say “trick or treat” here – the Danish translation of the phrase is “slike eller ballade,” and I probably heard the phrase hundreds of times over the course of the evening! Some of the households went above and beyond to give a good scare – one of them featured a “ghost” who grabbed the kids’ feet as they reached for candy. The screams coming from the house made it seem like a roller coaster! Once we started seeing more than a few closed curtains and signs saying “Sorry, out of candy,” we decided it was time to call it a day and head back.
The aftermath of putting kids next to bags full of candy is never pretty. Empty plastic wrappers filled the table as the kids stuffed their mouths with their favorite sweets. Much of the candy was similar to an American Halloween haul, but one of the more interesting treats was “gummy burgers,” with separate layers for the buns, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why this hasn’t made an appearance in the US. Now of course because it is Denmark, there was lots of licorice, both salty and sweet, and it was actually my host-sister Esther’s favorite! Licorice was an acquired taste for me but after a few months here, I’d say that I enjoy it like a Dane. My host parents had to battle the sugar rush to put the kids to sleep in good time for school the next day.
Ultimately, all festivals are about togetherness. While studying abroad, it can be difficult to be away from your family and friends during holidays that you are used to celebrating together. I am so glad that I got to feel like part of a family, and a broader community, this Halloween.