Moving out to France with the family also means leaving American holidays. A lot of holidays are celebrated around the world with slight variation and enthusiasm. Halloween, I assumed, would be tuned to day–of-the-dead rather than trick-or-treat. I wasn’t sure if the children of France dressed up in costume. So, I prepared my daughter as Halloween grew close, not to expect to dress up and go out trick-or-treating. Instead, we could have a little costume party and eat candy and cakes at home. But that was all before we received the note from her school about the Halloween Train. Which in my newbie French read, “A l’occasion de la fête d’Halloween. Les enfants … Invités … de bonbon … en petit train” and was signed, “Merci, La Sorcière.” For those following along in English, a local witch invited the children to wear a costume and ride a little train around the village for candy! Voila!
Halloween at last arrived after many demands from the children for it to come early. Lucy, Otto and Clementine got in costume and we were off to see what this train business was all about. The train was a white, tractor sort of thing pulling three covered carts. There were piles of balloons to be blown up along with pumpkin streamers and hanging plastic decoration. Parents brought cakes and juice. After the train was decorated, we got on our way to yell at the village to come out and give us candy. The train would stop at each house, the children would chant from the train at the top of their lungs, “LES BONBON!!!! LES BONBON!!!” (Actually, they never really stopped yelling LES BONBON and after a couple hours on a train with forty or so chanting goblins and witches, I can still hear it ringing in my ear.) At last, a person emerged from their home bearing a bag of candy and sometimes juice for the train to take with them. After a large cheer, we’d move along circling around the village finally ending up at the village hall. The whole experience was joyous and energetic. Kids ran around, yelled and screamed eating cake and candy. The event was spectacular, but it wasn’t until it was all over that I realized that it was actually magical. This Halloween party never had a committee. No one was in charge of decorating the train. No spreadsheet was used to figure out who brought what. No flurry of email passed through the PTA inbox with progress and concerns. The Witch told us where to be and what to wear letting the rest unfold naturally. Everyone arrived. The train got decorated. The cakes were brought. Fun was had by all. Further, the trick-or-treat experience was turned into a community event. Bags upon bags of candy were collected and then mixed and bundled for the children to take home after the party. My American children were boggled. They’re used to hitting the streets on their own, everyone out for themselves not knowing many of the neighbors. Complaining that so-and-so got a Mars bar while they only got a bag of gummy bears. On the train, each child left happily with the big bag of mixed candy. And the villagers got one visit by all the children who cheered at them. I left having chatted with all the parents, the kids played with all their buddies we all cleaned up and enjoyed the rest of the evening. What I enjoyed was the community.