The first thing I thought of this morning when I woke up was that Halloween is tomorrow. And tomorrow is a Saturday. And practically everyone I’ve ever known back in the States will either be at a party, taking the kids out trick-or-treating or cleverly figuring out a way to do both.
I have never been one of those people who spend months plotting out the ultimate costume or planning a ghoulish party that would become an annual event. But, don’t get me wrong. When I lived in the States I was a happy participant and would scarf down those mini candy bars whenever they were there for the taking.
In my old work offices I was happy that my fellow co-workers were so clearly jazzed about the upcoming holiday. But giving me a day-to-day update on the costume progression starting in August was something that should have either a) been done via a one sentence update with no expectation of any feedback coming from me or b) not done at all so that I could really give them the total packaged experience of shock, awe, belly laugh and exclamation when the walk-in display finally took place.
I like Halloween, but I’m not too bummed to be missing it, again. I missed out last year, as well; but I don’t even remember it coming around last year because I was so caught up in trying to figure out my new life and my new job. And I already know that I won’t be able to recognize many of the current, hot, American cultural topics/persons to be this year.
Case in point – I know this person who changed his name on his Facebook profile to include the word ‘Falcon’. Now, the weekend that he did this, he also went to some football game somewhere. I honestly thought that he had made this change because he wanted to give a shout out to the football team or to some player on the team or something having to do with football.
I had seen tidbits about the balloon boy, but that was it. No deep reading was done by me on this story and no further information came my way. It just kind of passed me by. I only just found out what he was making reference to a few days ago when I discovered that the balloon boy’s name was, in fact, Falcon.
Holiday traditions must puzzle all newbies in foreign lands. Personally, there are still holidays in Mauritius that I haven’t the foggiest idea about. After knowing what little I now know about the Indian culture, I’m now trying to picture newly arrived Indians to the States trying to put it all together in a way that would make sense.
Due to the massive amounts of consumerism that go hand-in-hand with many of the American holidays, the newly arrived would definitely know something was about to go down. Stepping into any store of any kind, they would be dazzled with decorations in hues of orange and black. Even the everyday paper towels that they would be picking up would give it away.
The offices they work in would suddenly have massive amounts of candy on every horizontal space weeks in advance of the actual holiday, which of course, would lead to yet another conversation back home about why Americans are so fat, “They have candy and food everywhere all the time.”
And if they still couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on, all they would have to do would be to switch on the TV or pick up a newspaper or magazine or just ask the question, “What is Halloween?” at the office and all would be explained. And in friendly Minnesota, they could ask ANYONE – the gas station cashier, the waitress at the restaurant, the dental hygienist – and no detail would be spared.
They would probably even be invited to the friendly Minnesotan’s annual spooky bash and the host or hostess would remark, “I’ve got someone coming to the party tonight all the way from India so I really need to have all the bells and whistles going so that I can show them what a REAL American Halloween is like!”
Now, due to the fact that American media is everywhere, there’s no doubt that Halloween would probably be somewhat known before even setting foot on Yankee soil. When I think back to some of the utterly stupid and lame things I said about American holidays to some of the Indian programmers I used to work with back in the States, I want to crawl in a hole and stay there eating a hoard of Halloween candy.
Maybe they just didn’t care to know. Maybe they just didn’t want to know. It’s not their culture or country. Many of the Indian programmers and co-workers I used to work with were never going to spend the rest of their days in the States. They were going to work there, make money and then move back to India. The zoned out looks and rapid head nodding I used to get as I prattled on about Santa and his reindeer were not, as I thought, signs of encouragement to continue.
But, I want to know. I really, really want to know why do people bake the sweet cakes at Diwali and light the oil lamps? Is there a story for those traditions? What should I do and where should I go to properly celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi? And what about Ougadi and Thaipoosam Cavadee and Maha Shivaratree? When is the Chinese New Year parade and where’s the best place to watch it from?
When I worked in Port Louis in the office, I would ask so many questions and every person that I asked would tell me something slightly different. Many people who I asked would also ask me why I wanted to know so much about the Hindi holidays since I wasn’t a Hindu. I told them that since I lived in Mauritius now and that since this was my home, I wanted to participate in the local culture.
There was one very helpful young man who was a Muslim on one of my teams and when Eid-Ul-Fitr came along he gave me tons of information about the holiday and told me what his family was going to be doing to celebrate. He even sent me a text message the night before when the moon was seen because he knew that I wouldn’t have a clue about whether or not I should come into the office or not the next day.
Looking back to when I first arrived and wanted to jump into every holiday here, it does make sense that people would find it strange that I wanted to go find a river to dip a statue of Ganesh. The temples here aren’t Walt Disney rides or interactive museum displays that you go into to ‘experience’. They are a functioning part of the community and culture. And this culture isn’t mine. The paper towels aren’t changed to have pictures of an elephant put on them.
These days I get most information about the upcoming holidays from books, websites and from the local Mauritian bloggers when they blog in English. If it’s in Creole or French, it’s just not going into this dusty brain. The official language of the country is listed as English, but all major newspapers are in French. I still buy them to try to know what’s happening, but all the information just kind of sits there in pieces not really ever falling totally into place.
And maybe that’s how it will always be here during the holidays. I’ll kind of know, but never REALLY know. I’ll be able to participate, but only from a distance and that’s o.k.
It will be fun on Monday to see all the Halloween photos posted from all the parties and trick-or-treaters on Saturday.
2009 Holidays in Mauritius
- Janvier 1 – Jour de l’An
- Janvier 2 – Ferie
- Janvier 26 – Fete Du Printemps
- Fevrier 1 – Abol. des Esclaves
- Fevrier 8 – Thaipoosam Cavadee
- Fevrier 23 – Maha Shivaratree
- Mars 12 -Fete Nationale
- Mars 27 – Ougadi
- Mai 1 – Fete Du Travail
- Aout 24 – Ganesh Chaturthi
- Septembre 20 – Eid-Ul-Fitr (depending on moon)
- Octobre 17 – Divali
- Novembre 1 – Toussaint
- Novembre 2 – Arr. Des Imm. Indien
- Decembre 25 – Noel