So when it comes to Halloween, I am usually a bit of a Scrooge. As I got older, the joy of dressing up was replaced with the dread of costume anxiety. But being abroad renewed in me an excitement
about this holiday.
About a week ago, I was thinking out loud with a friend and I decided that I needed to (as much as possible) bring an American Halloween experience to Kropyvnytskyi so I decided to plan a party.
In true RA/camp counselor/babysitter Betsy fashion, I could not let myself do any of the party planning halfway. It was either going all in or there wasn't going to be a party.
So, I began by creating invitation posters and email blasting them to all of my students. I have had a few other 'optional' events like this and only a few select students have decided to join me for these so I figured inviting all the students was a good idea because I didn't want to work so hard and only have a few people come! Also, it was simply not fair to invite some of my students but not all of them.
So, invitations went out on Friday (attached with homework assignments, of course). As soon as I sent the invitations, I set to work combing through Pinterest for ideas: how to decorate, food to eat, games to play, etc.
At this point it is important that I mention that Halloween is not really celebrated in Ukraine. People might dress up a little bit, families might carve a pumpkin for fun, and English programs celebrate the holiday as a way to showcase American/British culture and language. So, unlike at home, when I walked into stores this week I was not besieged by Halloween decorations and costumes. And unfortunately (for more reasons than just celebrating halloween), there is no Target here. But by Saturday, as if almost overnight, I started to see a few things pop up in local stores-a decoration or two, a headband or mask with different characters.
So with a list of ideas for homemade Halloween decorations in my hand, and dreams of hopefully being able to find some plastic halloween decorations (pumpkins, bats, etc.) I set out on the town (aka scavenger hunt across Kropyvnytskyi).
After a day of exploring in multiple shops, I returned home with a bag full of some already made decorations (and plenty of the headbands and masks as well as supplies to make my own decorations and a few treats. I spent a crazy Saturday night binge watching Netflix and creating cobwebs from garbage bags, ghosts from construction paper and candy filled pumpkins from tissue paper.
On Sunday, I clutched yet another shopping list, this one for groceries. I actually went on an adventure to a new store in town that required me to take public transportation (that was spooky enough for me). It went mostly well...except for the end when I got yelled at by the ticket lady for making a small mistake but telling you about the joys of public transport in Ukraine is for another day. The store that I went to is called Velmart (which if said by a Ukrainian sounds suspiciously like Walmart) and this store did remind me of Walmart. It was huge...as big as a Target or a Walmart. Unlike Walmart though, it was more on the pricey end of shopping in Kropyvnytskyi so I only bought a few things that I hadn't been able to find at my regular shops, some spices (CUMIN :)), food coloring (for Halloween of course), green and black striped tights (perfect for a witch costume) and some orange colored napkins for the party. Then, I trekked back to the center of the city to purchase the rest of the party groceries!
On Monday morning, I got up early to prepare for my Russian lesson...and do some homework that I had been neglecting in my excited preparations for the party. After my lesson, I set to work and all afternoon I was in the kitchen, cooking, preparing, and doing my best to replicate Pinterest. Here are some pictures of the results.
Halloween day was quite fun actually. I arrived at school dressed like a witch (a muted costume-perfect for not standing out too much as a weird American). I taught a lesson on Halloween including a game of Fishbowl, some scary story writing, and Halloween tongue twisters. We had a little party with handmade sweets by a student, and more games led by other students. The student council at KPSU planned some Halloween activities including a pumpkin carving contest, Halloween makeup contest, and spooky decorations. But as soon as my classes were done, I scurried out of the university and back home to finish last minute party preparations.
Thankfully, two of my students showed up a little early and I was able to put them to work, helping me to hang up decorations, and finish picking up my apartment.
At 6:30 PM there was some hurried knocking at my door. I quickly stood up and ran to the door, expecting to see two or three...maybe four students. So you can say that I was slightly shocked when I opened the door and at least 20 of my students were standing, crowded in my apartment stairwell shrieking "Trick or Treat!!" Then began to pour into my apartement and it was almost like a clown car situation-they kept coming and I just stood at the door, smiling and greeting each one to walk in.
A Ukrainian custom is that when you go to someone's house you bring with you a small gift for the host-chocolates, wine, some fresh or homemade foods, etc. So as each of these students came into my apartment, they filled my arms with gifts until I was overflowing with sweets.
By the time the flow of guests into my apartment stopped and I was able to make my way into my living room, I saw that my party had quickly grown into including over 40 of my students. What did I get myself into, I thought to myself while hiding my nervousness behind a huge smile.
So in true camp counselor and teacher mode I gathered the attention of my pupils and tried to organize the chaos a little. Slowly, I let small groups of 5 or 6 students into my kitchen to grab a little snack (emphasis on little because I had NOT prepared enough food). Then after everyone was fed, we played a few rounds of chaotic fishbowl and had a costume contest.
At around 8, my students started filing out-each of them thanking me profusely and many of them offering to help clean up. But honestly, at that point, the introvert in me was saying: nah I would rather have quiet solitude right now then many hands helping to clean.
At about 8:30pm just a few students were left- a small group to help me clean and to help me finish eating some of the snacks I had prepared that were leftover. We enjoyed reflecting on the night and then soon, they too left my apartment.
In sum, I greatly enjoyed my Halloween in Ukraine. Maybe more than I have enjoyed Halloween in a very long time in fact. I loved the challenge that Ukraine gave me to be creative about this
holiday. I think what annoys me the most at home about some holidays is our crazy commercialism around it. This pressure to have the best costume, the best decorations, the best food, etc. But
here it was easy (sort of :)) It was simply about sharing my culture, sharing my home, and having a good time with friends.
It was so much fun that I am looking forward to planning another mixed group Thanksgiving party...but I think I will be better planned next time. Bigger location and maybe we will do potluck style so that there is enough food :)
I hope you all enjoyed your Halloweens at home, I LOVED seeing all of the pictures on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram of little trick or treaters and creative costumes.