Halloween, as I first encountered it in a Canadian suburb, was a puzzling experience. Teachers dressed as ghouls served punch in school hallways, while makeup-caked kids strategically planned their trick-or-treating routes for later that evening.
Confused and costumeless, I didn’t appreciate yet all the intricate rituals, let alone the importance of a visit from the Great Pumpkin. Nor did I forsee that nearly two decades later, I would be trying to recreate the experience back in Prague.
Since this was the late 80s, many of my classmates dressed up as “punks”, something that usually involved mismatched socks (one neon green, one hot pink), a chain of safety pins and only one earring.
It looked rebellious, but I instinctively understood that as a Canada-dwelling Czech I must milk the full worth of my foreign credentials. I went as an obscure (and, as I hoped, mysterious) Bohemian castle ghost known as Bílá paní – the White Lady. No one knew what I was – and having virtually no English, I couldn’t explain the concept – but at least I had a cool medieval pointed hat and got to wear makeup for the first time in my life.
Very quickly, I developed into a seasoned trick-or-treater, able to estimate at a glance the candy potential of every house on our street. Sorting the loot at the end of the night became a ritual: the cream-of-the-crop chocolate bars to be jealously guarded from the sibling, the so-so candies that could be traded at school, the generic caramels, destined to harden over months in a dusty cupboard.
The saddest moment in a child’s passage to adulthood arrives with the realisation that the best part of Halloween has an age limit. As though programmed by some unwritten social code, neighbours dealing with overgrown trick-or-treaters start doling out reproachful looks and being less generous with the candy.
Halloween parties may be a flimsy bandaid, but you adapt, and, fortunately for expats and Halloween-hallowing Czechs, Prague this year is full of them.
There’s the Prague.tv party, the Monster Ball at the Retro Music Hall on Francouzská, featuring bands United Flavour Extra and Maradona Jazz.
Seeing Blaq Mummy play on the 31st has almost become tradition for some. The local expat band, which features a theremin and always appropriately ghoulishly dressed up performers, will play its 10th Halloween concert at Skutečnost, a club on Francouzská. The Expats.cz-sponsored show will also feature the rather excellent Tower of Dudes. Costumed revlers pay CZK 99, those in regular dress pay CZK 120 – All the more reason to hit the Main Train Station’s Megasekáč now and use the bewildering assortement of second-hand clothing to put together a costume.
Things could get even darker at the Moonlight Mayhem Fest at Žižkov’s Klub Matrix, on Koněvova. The main performers are The Last Days of Jesus, a Bratislava band described on the venue’s website as goth-punk-deathrock. Seems you can’t go wrong with that.
Halloween-themed events are also planned at Holešovice’s Cross Club and at Chapeau Rouge in Old Town.
For more party and concert tips and for a pretty exhaustive list of places where you can buy costume-worthy materials see the Expats.cz website, whose events list I shamelessly plundered.
Like the Halloween party selection, the pumpkin situation in Prague has also improved greatly over the last few years. Just three years ago, I had to hike 10 km along a country road outside of Prague, carrying a pumpkin I had picked out at Bykoš farm (which apparently no longer grows pumpkins) in a backpack. It’s no longer necessary to travel out of town. Every ovoce zelenina shop now has a decent selection and so do Billa and Tesco.
Pumpkin carving and other Halloween-related events will spill over into the weekend as well, with more child-oriented activities. The family-friendly party at the Zviřátka pub, just 10 km outside of Prague in Roztoky looks especially promising. The event kicks off with pumpkin carving and ends with an acoustic concert. By far the best part could be the trip back home to Prague (Do you dare to hike back through the woods?)
And although older Czechs may grumble that Halloween is a commercialised North American import, to me it represents a sizeable chunk of my childhood. As Linus van Pelt would surely agree, you should never give up your search for the most sincere pumpkin patch. Even if you happen to be living in Prague.