Such a Foreign Holiday
An Immigrant Family's First Halloween
These days, I cannot help but laugh when I tell the story of my family’s first Halloween in the United States of America. Then again, these days, according to my Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds, Halloween is no more sinister than tummy aches from too much candy and cute kids in adorable costumes. In 2001, though, less than two months after we’d landed at Newark Liberty International Airport, laughter was the furthest thing from our minds. It was a bleak time for the world and indeed for our family of five.
That year, a lot of things were new. The newest of all was Halloween. My middle sister and I had done some information gathering at school and walked away with a few tidbits that, because of our sheltered upbringing in India, meant nothing at all to us. For instance, no one explained things like, “Who are you going as tonight?”, “Are your parents letting you go to the Monster Bash at the school later?”, or “I hope I get a lot of treats this year! Last year, my bucket was SO full!”
I was used to things not making a lot of sense back then. The American accent was tough enough on my senses. Trying to also interpret the thoughts of 13 and 14-year-olds often proved too much. At any rate, I was sure my parents would have an explanation for us, and I wasn’t disappointed.
As it turns out, my parents had heard from someone, who heard from someone else, that tonight, on the night of Halloween, frightful people would wear the signs of the devil and walk the streets of the city, invoking the spirits of the dead.
So, we did the only thing we could do. We gathered our songbooks and bibles, and we made camp upstairs in the attic, the room that was not only the highest in the house (and therefore closest to God) but also didn’t have any windows (making it hard for those evil spirits to find us).
We hid there, behind our hushed songs and fearful prayers, as hordes of little hooligans descended on our neighborhood demanding chocolates. We called on our God’s protection to shield us from all that was happening in that strange and foreign land outside, and we waited for an answer in that room's eerie, stuffy, dimness.
Then, it happened. Our doorbell rang.
We looked at each other. My youngest sister huddled close to our dad, who looked as wide-eyed as the rest of us.
“Did someone forget to turn off the light downstairs?” Mom asked in a sharp whisper.
The doorbell rang again.
“I’ll check,” I volunteered.
I crawled to the door, then began to creep down the stairs. My sister followed, either for moral support or to sate her curiosity, or both. We ducked under the dark windows along the way, hoping that the lamplight outside didn't give us away.
Our hearts were pounding when we reached the last stair, and we paused on the landing for a moment to catch our breaths.
I nearly jumped straight out of my skin, and one of us - it could very well have been me - squeaked.
Whoever, or whatever, was outside must have heard us because I could suddenly hear voices out there. Lots of voices. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, or if they were saying anything I would understand anyway. I saw their shadows moving under the door, though.
“Who is it?” my sister whispered urgently.
“Shhh!” I hushed her as quietly as I dared. But I was curious, too, and found myself inching forward to place an ear against the door.
Knock, Knock Knock.
That’s all I needed to hear. It was clearly the ghouls or the spirits or the evil creatures that were roaming the earth that night. I turned away from the door so fast I stubbed my toe on the door jamb. But there was no time to waste on pain.
“Get the candles!” I hissed at my sister, probably with far more ferocity than I needed to. “Then let’s get back upstairs!”
As far as strategies go, that was the best I could come up with. Gather some light and get back to our parents and the protection of the prayers in that room.
Within moments, my sister held an armful of candles - of all types, the tall and thin ones, the tea-light ones, and at least one that looked like a rotund Santa. We had no time to be discerning. I grabbed a box of matches, and a bowl of snacks, for good measure. Then we bolted upstairs, our little feet thudding on the carpeted steps a lot louder than I liked.
“Hey! Is somebody in there?” I heard from outside the door.
“Go, go, go!” My sister and I raced each other until we reached the top.
We had barely made it, my sister collapsing on the floor next to my parents, spilling the candles everywhere when mom asked the sensible question.
“Did you turn the light off?”
Oh right. The light. In my muddled race to get back upstairs, I'd forgotten the whole reason we went downstairs in the first place.
Taking a deep breath, I drew the sign of a cross across my chest like a shield and then went back out. My sister, not feeling the need to risk life or limb again, stayed where she was that time.
I could have used the moral support, though: the hallway was longer in the darkness, and the stark brightness spilling out of the living room just made everything worse.
With my senses heightened, it seemed like the living room spanned the length of several basketball courts. I knew that if I stepped in there, someone would see me through the tall windows that lined the walls.
With a deep breath, I shrank to the floor and shuffled along the bottom until I was just below the light switches. I ran my hand up along the wall, poised to flick the nearest switch, when I heard something outside the window, inches from my face. I turned slowly, dreading what I might find, and just before I flicked the switch, I saw the face of a skeleton. Then it raised its hand and waved at me.
“Ahhhhhhh! It’s real. It’s all real!” I ran across the room, down the hallway, up the stairs, into the attic where the rest of my family was, grabbed the door, and swung it shut with such force that the whole house shook. I dropped down next to my mother, feeling as though I'd just escaped the grasp of the undead.
That's where we stayed, the five of us. For the rest of the night, enshrined in our prayers and our songs, fearing the ring of the doorbell, we counted down the minutes until daybreak.
Needless to say, because of that night, I carried a deep fear and suspicion of Halloween all the way to college, and maybe even beyond. I think I’m mostly used to it now. Just don’t ask me to go downstairs to turn off the light, if you forget. Once in a lifetime was more than enough for me.
About the Creator
R. J. Rani
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
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Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Loved it! I can only imagine what it's like to see all those people in costume for the first time. Especially with the idea of devils in mind. I had to laugh!
This is hilarious, enjoyable, and lets me look at Halloween through fresh eyes, thank you.
I absolutely loved this! I could picture each family member huddled in the attic and the part where the skeleton is on the other side of the door made me giggle. A ruddy fantastic read from you yet again!
This story is so funny and relatable. It reminded me of many stories of my childhood getting to know my friends and how different their cultures were from mine. Thanks for sharing!
Hilarious and so relatable. I laughed at the sign of the cross as a shield when marching back into the fray. So very well written.
I lost it at the rotund Santa candle! This was well written, entertaining read.