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Linda Liem

Awkward celebrations: Halloween

3 min read

It may be hard to believe, but Halloween was virtually unknown in Norway until the turn of the century. During the last 10-15 years though, Halloween has been adopted in Norway in a big, but not always in a good way.
Many Norwegians have used popular American culture, aka cartoons, movies and tv-series, to learn how to celebrate Halloween. Who can resist a festival where you are allowed to dress up, go round the neighborhood in the dark and get candy too? Retailers have jumped massively on the bandwagon. Sales in the Halloween period have increased with 500% in the last few years and some stores had to limit the number of customers in their shops.

The problem with the Norwegian adoption of Halloween is that not everything has made it to Norway. Some take “trick-or-treat” all too literally. For them, “tricking” means that one is allowed revenge, often by throwing eggs against houses and covering cars in toilet paper, when the door isn’t answered or you don’t get candy. Children sometimes ring at all the houses in the neighborhood, thereby scaring older folks who have no idea what Halloween is about and irritating others who don’t want to have anything to do with Halloween. Some have shouted at the kids to go away or called them beggars, which frightened smaller kids and infuriated their parents, and gave larger kids and some adults the perfect excuse to retaliate. Others have suggested that houses that want to receive trick-or-treaters could show this by decorating their front yard or door, but this has largely been ignored in discussions. Now opponents and proponents alike just throw mud and insults at each other in social media.

We have a Norwegian tradition called Julebukk that goes back to ancient times and has many similarities with Halloween. Between Christmas and New Years Eve, children dress up as nisser -goblin-like beings who are said to live close to humans and give protection -as long as they are properly taken care of-,  go Julebukk around the neighborhood and sing carols. In return they receive praise, cookies, candy and clementines. Sadly, Julebukk is all but extinct in urban areas, but the tradition is still very much alive in the countryside where we live.

For me, Halloween is an awkward celebration. I’m skeptical over the trick-or-treat aspect, even if it’s only for fun. It’s just too easy to be misunderstood and abused, especially when there are no traditions or roots to the origins of the celebration. However, I do understand that Halloween is exciting for the kids. So this year, I had a good discussion about Halloween and the importance of respecting others with my youngest daughter who's 9 years old. She got the opportunity to go trick-or-treating with a group of girls after a birthday party in our neighborhood and when they came to us, I had a surprise ready for them. First, they had to eat a jelly worm and only after they had eaten the worm, could they pick a pumpkin cookie. But they didn’t get candy, that is something for when they go julebukk!