TRICK or treat? (trik alebo maškrta?) The first time I heard that expression was on October 31 in Michigan, United States, where I was spending the year as a foreign exchange student. It was right around then that I started to feel homesick. With the end of October approaching, I imagined my family back home in Slovakia getting together to remember the dead (zosnulí).
On the first day of November many Slovaks go to cemeteries, lay flowers and light candles for each family member and friend who has passed away. During that night, the cemeteries fill with flowers and are aglow with candles, just like a starry summer night.
Because I could not celebrate the holiday in America the way I had always done at home, I bought a candle and planned to pray for my deceased loved ones.
However, the way Americans were preparing for this holiday shocked me. Instead of quietly paying their respects to the ones who were no longer with us, they were talking loudly and were busy carving pumpkins (vyrezávať tekvice) and decorating their homes. They hung signs on their front doors with sayings like "Happy Halloween" or "Trick or Treat" and images of black witches' cats.
All Saintsş Day (Dušičky or Všetkých svätých), as the holiday is called here, has its roots in the ninth century, when families left food on the table to feed the dead (mŕtvi). Another ancient tradition was leaving moss (rašelníky), pine-branches (vetvičky), and pine-wreaths (vence) at the graves of loved ones.
The more I learned about this strange American holiday called Halloween, the more I realized how similar it was to our Slovak holiday. However, it was executed very differently! While Slovaks went to visit the dead in the cemeteries, the American dead came to visit the living.
Halloween is a pagan tradition that started in Celtic Ireland and was brought to America in the 19th century. Families celebrate by carving ghouls' faces in pumpkins (tekvice) and dressing up in costumes. Traditionally, these outfits would represent demons, vampires, monsters, ghosts or bats. Nowadays, though, anything goes, and you frequently see little Bart Simpsons and Harry Potters running around the streets.
The children go 'trick or treating' from house to house. This activity involves walking around the neighborhood in costume, going up to each house and ringing the doorbell. When the door is answered, the children scream "trick or treat". They are usually rewarded with candy or coins. And sometimes a trick is played on them.
The American Halloween customs, no matter how strange they may seem to this country's older generation, have found their way to Slovakia. While Halloween is celebrated mostly in the capital, possibly because of the high concentration of expats, it has slowly begun to spread to other parts of the country.
In Bratislava, the Irish pub holds Halloween parties annually. This year's party will start with a disco show at 19:00. The staff will be wearing masks and serving special drinks, like Bloody Marys and voodoo cocktails and a dish called bosorkine prsia (witch breasts). Patrons are encouraged to wear costumes and there will be a show of eight dancing witches.
Right next to the Irish pub is El Diablo. You won't have problems finding it, as Halloween songs will be playing there all night long. Kelt Bar and Grill will also be decorated with loads of pumpkins and will play music from the 1980s. The 17's Bar and Hystéria Pub will be playing popular disco music.
Some of Bratislava's other pubs will also turn nightmarish. For instance, Greenwich Cocktail Bar will have its Halloween party on October 31 and November 1 and 2. The Harley Davidson Pub will celebrate the ghoulish holiday on November 8 and 9 with rock and disco music.
The Irish-themed Diesel Music Pub in Košice has been celebrating Halloween since 1997 and will do so this year as well. Hostinec u Kozla, also in the eastern city of Košice, will hold a live concert celebrating the occasion.
Staff in western Nitra's Pub 33 will serve Bloody Marys made with a homemade garlic vodka on November 1. People who have the courage to drink one will get their money back. Also on November 1, Trnava's Baila Bar will present a Dracula skit and a striptease. Prešov's Irish Pub will have Irish music and serve Finnish vodka at a special price.
As you can see, there are many ways to celebrate Halloween, Všetkých svätých (All Saints' Day) - or both. It is up to you to decide!
Foreign Affairs is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the thrills and spills of life in Slovakia.
The next Foreign Affairs will appear on stands November 11, Vol. 8, No. 43.