Some holiday traditions are lost in translation.
Stuck in the polyester tights of my questionably short Marie Antoinette costume, I contemplated if I had finally outgrown Halloween. My partner-in-crime, a very handsome skeletal gentleman, waited patiently with his painted nose buried in a book as our crotchety Viennese taxi driver griped under his breath all the way to the 10th district, baffled by our costumes.
The party was situated in a quiet and quaint Gemeindebau (council housing); a long way from Sleepy Hollow. Yet our anticipation ran high: Our Americana obsessed friend had promised to outdo himself this year, blowing his modest bonus check from his ministry job on ghouls, ghosts n’ goblins. Due to the explosion of American culture on the millennial psyche via Hollywood and television specials, a Frankenstein of a tradition has been stitched together in our central European midst over years. This night was to be our true introduction to the monster.
“Wait, did he just pass out a little bit?” is never a good thing to hear when bobbing for apples, but this was the vigor with which our Austrian friend embraced American traditions – as seen on TV!
His apartment looked like the set of a sitcom, each corner lovingly garnished in his quirky interpretation of Halloween spookiness. Fake blood pooled comically in apothecary jars as we greeted our host, a dapper Dracula. The living room was a wondrous place, blanketed in store-bought cobwebs entrapping a corpulent Elvis frantically trying to free himself. A very appropriately dressed witch stirred a cauldron resting on a dangerous amount of dry ice next to a singing animatronic skeleton.
The vibe was a throwback to college days spent painting the town red – literally, with fake blood on apartment walls in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. This party was different, though. Gone were the drugs and the orgies, replaced with the childlike wonder of a grown man inadvertently waterboarding himself in an upturned barrel of apples.
The night was still young, and the debauchery continued; a haze of booze and near-death experiences set in as the party turned to more traditional adult Halloween hijinks. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the full bowl of candy next to the entrance. Deciding to speed things up for a city where kids normally only dress up and go door-to-door on Three Kings’ Day, I transferred the hoard to a plastic Jack-o’-lantern container, perching the loot like a sitting duck on the sidewalk. I then added a sign in German instructing neighborhood kids to please “Just take one.”
I wondered how long the rules would be followed. In this city of Recht und Ordnung (law and order), ample signs, mandatory house slippers, and polite disinterest, would there still be little monsters tricking their way through the neighborhood, smashing pumpkins and landscaping trees with toilet paper? The party was gleefully singing The Monster Mash as I stepped back inside. As I turned around to shut the front door, the overturned, empty Jack-o’-lantern tumbled across the pavement. Feels like home after all.