American Halloween By A European Mom


This Halloween post originally ran in October, 2019.



I do not like horror movies. I always ran away from jokes related to spiritualism and all mediumistic activities. I hate seeing blood, and I only dare to go to cemeteries during the daytime. Let’s say these subjects don’t scare me, but they don’t captivate me either (yeah, right …). In Europe, particularly in Portugal (where I am from), and with the exception of the United Kingdom and Ireland, Halloween has no major expression other than commercial promotion. That said, Halloween was something I used to look at as foolish or nonsense.

But then, in 2017, my family and I moved to the US, and a whole new world of celebration was presented to us. And Halloween was no exception; it was such a good and not-so-spooky surprise.


House Decorations

What I once saw as mere consumerism, I, here and now, view as a spirit of community, initiative, and pride. It’s amazing to watch all the time, money, and dedication people invest in their homes for Halloween. Some neighborhoods become true art tours, worthy of excursions. Lights, music and interactive crafts ensure fun for the whole family.


Trick or Treat

In Portugal, there is the “Bread for God’s sake,” that is the tradition of souling when children meet together and walk around the neighborhood, knock at all the doors and people give them small gifts such as cakes, chocolates or, in some cases, money. At Halloween, the same thing happens, but with children dressed up and ready to tell jokes to homeowners as a way of repaying the offer of the treat (by the way, “Why is the Vampire so unpopular? Because he is a pain in the neck!!!”). Often it’s not just about candy, but small gifts that delight the youngest, such as pencils, notepads or necklaces. It is not just about “sugar”; indeed it is about conviviality and fun.


Halloween Night

Halloween night is all wrapped up in a mix of excitement, fun and conviviality. From the ritual of turning on the outside light as a sign that there are sweets to offer, to people who gather in the gardens and backyards, light the bonfires, toast marshmallows and drink beer or hot chocolate, while the children knock on the doors, tell jokes and then return happily with their baskets filled with sweets and gifts. From 0 to 99, everyone somehow participates and gives their best to make it a night of joy, fun, and companionship among neighbors.

Two years and two American Halloween experiences later, (and about to celebrate the third), I can say that for me, Halloween has gone from “Boo to Wow”, from “Beast to Beauty”, from “dunce to genius”. Halloween has become one of our family’s favorite seasons. Death is not celebrated, life is celebrated. Fear is not promoted, joy is promoted. Frights are not cultivated, neighborhood friendship is cultivated.

Have fun, put your best costume on and do not make the same mistake I did, do not judge a tradition without first experimenting and being able to make a credible assessment.

Happy Halloween!

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Maria Ines Goncalves is yet another Portuguese mom named Maria (like most of the women in Portugal), but now she is a Portuguese mom in the USA. Born in Portugal, Maria graduated with a degree in Political Science and believed she was not ready for motherhood, wanting to pursue her career and travel the world, although not wanting to live overseas. Guess what? She turned into a stay-at-home-mom of three (2007, 2010 and 2018) and moved to St. Louis due to her husband's job in 2017. Changes are a pattern in her life and, when she’s not adjusting to another life change, she loves to dance, bake, photograph, sew, draw and paint with the kids. But mainly she loves to enjoy the beauty and craziness of motherhood, her real and most precious purpose in life.


  1. It’s interesting to see how American traditions are viewed by other cultures. I love how you embrace the craziness of Halloween and have made it part of your family’s celebrations! It is such a fun holiday. Your kids are so fortunate to have parents still rooted in their own cultures as you all embrace life in America. In my house, we are out of touch with any traditions that may have stemmed from our heritage … we are so far removed from our European roots. So I feel like our kids miss out on anything that ties them to their ancestors. It makes me think that I need to document more for my kids to pass on to their kids so that in generations to come, they know more about the history of their grandparents / great-grandparents, etc…

  2. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment! Yes, I do try to keep a balance on both cultures. We’ve definitely embraced the American culture as respect for the country we are living now, but we could never leave our roots behind, and if it really is easy for kids to adjust and to forget about the past, we (parents) add frequent reminders to our routines, to our celebrations related to our European culture. We are fortunate to be able to travel the world and get to know so much about it and we want to make sure we (all the family) keep the best of each part.


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