In the 1990s Cambodians had never heard of Halloween, much less Halloween American-style. October was for celebrating the Moon Goddess and the Autumn Festival. Occasionally, they got to enjoy the Double Nine ceremony—but not Halloween.
Cambodians are a superstitious lot, and you could scare any six- to eighty-year-old into a fright with low-hissing “ewwws” and “ooohs” in the dark.
Tevi, the daughter I adopted at the age of six in 1996, experienced her first American Halloween the following year in Akron, Ohio. She was in a panic at the sight of ghosts dangling next to skeletons from tree branches and ghoulish smiles carved into lighted pumpkins. She wanted nothing to do with this alarming celebration. But hoping to Americanize her and see her enjoy what has become a kids’ holiday, I cajoled, urged, and finally forced her to go up to a house and say “trick or treat.” Imagine Tevi’s surprise when a kind woman, dressed as a good witch, scooped up a handful of candy from a nearby cauldron and put it into her bag. After that, she ran from porch to porch, thrusting it into every opening door. Forget the ghosts!
Cambodia in 2017 is replete with trick-or-treaters. Missionary and private schools promote everything Christian or marketable from the West to the children of faithful Buddhists, who are simply trying to assure a better education for their offspring than the private sector offers.
Halloween is big business in the United States. It has lost any religious significance for the vast majority of kids who don outfits that can cost more than one hundred dollars for the costume du jour! Are these really the Western values we want to export around the world?