Halloween in Cuenca: An expat boy learns the tricks of the trade
By Christopher Lux
October 31 is the day of the escudo de armas in Ecuador. In Cuenca, it’s the start of the independence day celebrations. It’s also the time that Christmas trees, lights, and other decorations begin going up.
With so many people from other cultures moving to Cuenca, including thousands of North Americas, Halloween is also gaining in popularity during the busy holiday season. It has strong connections, of course, with today’s Dia de los Muertos, which is celebrated throughout Latin America.
Some local schools allow students to wear Halloween costumes. The English school where I teach incorporates Halloween into some of its lessons. Some Cuencanos and expats have private Halloween celebrations at their homes, and restaurants and bars try to capitalize on its growing popularity.
My son just turned six last month. He knows what Halloween is and he gets excited about it. But he hasn’t developed the expectations of the holiday that I always had growing up. He bought a $2 mask and wore it with jeans and a jacket. It was “very scary” he said. He had no expectations for anything more grand than that. Though my wife and I knew Halloween and trick-or-treating are not popular in Ecuador, our son insisted that he go door-to-door in his mask.
Equipped with a pillow case for candy, we ventured out at 5:30 on the 31st. Our first stop was our neighbor’s house. They’ve recently moved to Cuenca from Guayaquil. Their children were not trick-or-treating and it turned out that 5:30 was too early for a visit.
We went back home and waited. Then, at 6:15 we ventured out again only to be advised at our next stop that we should wait at least another hour — until it was really dark.
Just past seven, we hit the road again. My son was excited as he looked for any house with lights on and a car in the driveway. He knocked on the doors and asked for candy in Spanish — he speaks much better than me.
The first person had nothing but she told us to wait as she searched and found a Kinder Joy Surprise Egg to give him. With only four treats and two false starts, my son said, “This is the best Halloween ever!”
People pretended to be scared when they saw him and attempted to speak some words of English to us. A few had bowls of candy ready, but most were not prepared for us. People ran to their kitchens and their houses for candies. Teenagers answered the door and gave him the candy they had. One person gave a slice of chocolate cake. Another dumped breath mints into the pillow case. Another ran out to her car to gather spare change.
Though many houses were lit up with Christmas trees and lights, one was ready for the spooky holiday. Ahead of us, my son and I saw a person dressed as a ghost run up a driveway. As we approached, the porch lights shut off. My son knocked and waited. Then, a person dressed as a ghost jumped out making eerie noises, and holding a bowl of candy. Behind the teenage ghost were parents holding smartphones, taking pictures and videos.
“That ghost didn’t even scare me,” my son told me later, trying to convince me that he didn’t jump back out of fear.
We passed only a few small groups of trick-or-treaters and we exchanged tips with them for the good houses to hit. We walked until my son needed a break and sat down to eat some of the candy.
At home, we spread the candy out on the dining room table. It was a very, very small amount compared to what I used to get back in the States. Never-the-less, my son was thrilled and proud of what he got.
There was a sort of authenticity to the search for “treats” that I appreciated, and that I know he enjoyed very much.