I don’t think Halloween is celebrated as much anywhere in the Philippines as it is here in Manila. I lived all of 23 years not being aware that trick-or-treating was not exclusive to the US. Having grown up in a place where we did not make merry once October 31 or the nearest weekend before it rolled by, I was more than a little surprised that it was a big to-do here. In terms of intensity, I think it matched my bewilderment upon discovering how bananas and coconuts were actually bought here in this big city for quite a high price (they are practically free where I’m from, maybe because they grow most everywhere in abundance)!
So on my first Halloween in Manila as a new bride, Richard and I were passive participants in the colorful party that zoomed by the streets in the village where we live. While the gates and doors of our neighbor’s houses were trimmed in what I would call gothic cheer, we gave in to the demands of the season by simply getting several sacks full of treats and giving them away. For nine years running now, it is always the candies and popcorn from Bench Bytes, nuggets of the always delicious Chocnut, and Oishi.
We would sit by the gate and give them all away, to little kids and tweeners, mommies and daddies too, who were dressed either as witches, superheroes, monsters or some famous candy bar. That was enough then.
But then, like yawning, the whole activity became contagious and pretty soon we were sprucing up our own Halloween décor, a little bit more with each passing year. I remembered the hideous masks my younger brothers had as little boys, the same ones they, together with our Tito Gabby and Tito Rico (mommy’s brothers), used to frighten and torment the help and relatives alike. They had outgrown it by then but my mom, being a pack rat, had saved the leathery things — still in tip-top shape — in a drawer in Ormoc. My sister mailed them to me and our drivers here made bodies for them out of sticks that crisscrossed here and there. Clothed in denim and wearing shirts stuffed with plastic-wrapped bundles of crushed newspaper, the monsters were life-size and would either sit or stand or crouch intermittently along the perimeter of our gate.
On a trip to the States a long, long time ago when he was still single, Richard had also bought a huge mask that was the size of maybe eight heads. He had actually bought two of them, but we could find only one. It does not have a scary face but looks enchanted in a dwarfish kind of way — like a wise something, neither bad or good, and he sits there as if he is the master of them all.
When Juliana was two years old, which was year four of our marriage, we went around the village trick or treating too, pushing Juliana who was dressed as a little Chinese girl in her stroller. I lined her upper lash line with black liner, turned up on the sides with a flourish to make her round eyes look more Chinese, and rubbed some bright red lipstick on her lips. I was dressed sort of Chinese-like, too, while Richard was decked out as a soldier. What we were supposed to represent as a family, I do not know, but individually we were dressed like that. I remember going home that day with almost enough candy to fill a traveling bag. And since Juliana was too young to desire candy, Richard and I ate more than just a few until we felt sick and decided that that much candy is indeed for the little ones, literally. At a certain point, you just plain outgrow it, the way you would outgrow thumb-sucking or drinking milk from a feeding bottle.
For a couple of years after that Juliana was some princess or the other until she turned five and she wanted to be Darna while her best friend was Wonder Woman. They wore their sexy costumes with their black Barbie boots and romped around with long hair and round bellies, believing and proclaiming to one and all that they really had superpowers. They were the only ones brave enough to wear that kind of costume then: it actually looked like swimwear if not for the stars and the headpiece and the thick, glittery arm bands and I personally think that was their cutest costume to date. I always just let them be, allowing them to be whoever they wanted to be; allowing them (to their obvious delight) to gorge on as much candy as they wanted until the sun went down and the festivities dwindled.
They are a happy bunch. The kids of our old maids who have since left to start families of their own and our labandera’s many grandchildren join in the fun and they move around in a whole pack, a merry mix of little people dressed as big people or animals. Last year Juliana decided to be a Bratz doll-cum-cheerleader and this year I am quite sure she will want to be a rock star. All signs say a rock star she will be.
One particular Halloween, as the crowd of trick-or-treaters peaked late in the afternoon, Richard wore a mask, wrapped a big blanket around his shoulders, and sat on a chair beside the non-living monsters, staring into space, very still. Or so it seemed. But soon as the bigger kids came by to ask for treats he would spring from his chair quickly and practically frighten the unsuspecting bunch out of their costumes and wits. He did the same to not just a few adults, too. That was just for that one year because I was seriously scared someone would faint on our doorstep out of sheer fright. It was delightfully funny to watch, though, and we would all have mirthful tears running down our cheeks. If not for the potential hazard it poses I would ask him to do it — please, please — every year. But for the fainthearted, it is not.
Last week I actually asked someone where I could get gourds — to scatter around the garden — but yesterday my husband-who-loves-to-do-the-grocering (he would go every other day if he had the time and come home after each visit with just as much stuff as the first day!) bought me and Juliana the next best thing which he found in S&R — five big pumpkins! Since I was out of the house when he arrived and our excited daughter could not wait, they carved out faces on three and left two for me to do. It was a lot of fun doing it, experiencing it especially for the first time and through Juliana’s eyes. He taught me how to cut the head at an angle so we can put it back on snugly like a lid and together we scooped out enough flesh and all of the pumpkin seeds inside to create a neat space. He leveled the bottom where the candle would sit and Juliana did the honors by lighting the wick with a torch gun.
The monsters sitting on our gate seem happy with the new company they keep.
Who knows what we will add next year?