A little pumpkin.
Trick or Treating in Mexico, October 30th warm up for Halloween
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- Little kids fluttered by us on the streets of San Cristobal like apparitions of doom on the horizon. They were be-costumed in masks of skeletons, bloody things, rabid clowns, and anything that could be thought of representing death or fright (along with a few Nancys in princess costumes).
They have plastic bags in their hands.
Hey! Those kids are trick or treating.
It is October 30th, Saturday night, one night before Halloween, called Dia de Brujas — Day of the Witches — in Mexico. But the kids are already out trick or treating, called something like pedir calabacitos, asking for small pumpkins. My wife, young daughter Petra, and myself watch the little masked ghouls and disgusting things go from shop door to shop door through the business district of San Cristobal.
“Sorry, Petra,” my wife begins, “we failed as parents this year, we don’t have a costume for you to go trick or treating in.”
We walk on, my wife Chaya and I feeling dejected as we watch all the other little kids enjoying a night that ours could not participate in due to our lack of preparation. We had all good intentions to deck Petra out in a costume, we went around to all of the shops looking, but decided that paying our 100 pesos for something that she would wear for but one night was not a worthy expense — we planned to make her a costume ourselves.
I think we wanted to stick a rolled up sock to her butt and call her a bunny or something like that.
But time had caught up with us, our daughter was uncostumed. But, to our credit as parents, this preemptive jump at trick or treating happened one day sooner than we thought it would — who goes out trick or treating on October 30th?
Apparently, kids in Mexico do.
Lamely, we walk by a store selling costumes. “There’s a costume in there,” Chaya speaks half heartily.
Let’s buy it.
We rush into the shop and Petra comes out as a pumpkin.
We are trick or treating now — I mean, asking for small pumpkins.
Trick or treating is different in Mexico than in the USA, it, in fact, is a little complex. No, you don’t just walk up to a door and say, “trick or treat,” you have to sing a song.
Neither my wife or I know the words to the song, we walk into shops and try to get Petra candy on her cuteness alone.
Stone faced. Nobody would give us anything without the song. Not even when we would stand before a shop vendor who we just saw giving candy to little singing Mexican kids would poor Petra be awarded any treats. Even babies younger than Petra were getting their bags filled, as their parents could sing the song.
We walk up to a shop full of trick or treaters — I mean, asking for small pumpkiners — and stand our ground: we did not drop 74 pesos to turn our daughter into a pumpkin for nothing. We stand in the doorway before the staff, “Canta, Petra, canta!” I urge.
Petra just sits in my arms, a perfect little pumpkin.
“She doesn’t know the song,” I admit to the shopkeepers, who were a couple teenage girls and a young dude.
An old lady who was taking her grand kids out trick or treating helpfully chimed in, “Then you have to sing it.”
I gather up my gumption and let loose:
“Dah, da, da, da, dah, dah, da, da,”
The kids working in the shop roll in laughter.
At least I had the tune down.
I expected candy for my effort. I got stone faced.
Apparently, I need to sing the song the right way, not just mutter and hum.
No candy for us.
I looked into the empty plastic bag that I held in my hand, I looked at my be-costumed daughter. “Sorry, sweet P, your parents suck at this.”
Trick or treating in Mexico is hard.
We don’t give up, we learn the words to the song. We get candy.
Somos los angelitos, del cielo bajamos, pidiendo calabacita, para que comamos… ¡Calabacita, tía!
We are fallen angels from heaven
Asking for treats that we would eat . . . Give me a treat, auntie!
Or something like this.
Note: Traditionally, kids are given little sugar skulls when trick or treating around the time of Day of the Dead, which lead me to inquire if the word “calabacita,” meaning little pumpkin, should actually be “calaverita” which means little skull — which is what kids say for trick or treating in other parts of Mexico and Latin America: ¿me da mi calaverita?
But, on all accounts, when I raised the question I was told, without question, that you are suppose to ask for a calabacita — a little pumpkin — and, for added emphasis, a couple people even point at Petra, who was dressed as a pumpkin.
I find this particularly interesting as, in modern Spanish, the sounds for “B” and “V” are virtually indistinguishable: when pronounced, the word for “little pumpkin” and “little skull” sound pretty much the same.
Whatever the case, after this song is sung to a prospective candy giver, you exclaim, “Vive, tia!” — Auntie lives! — if you get candy, but, if your request is not properly met, you exclaim, “Muere, tia!” — Die Auntie!
We, unfortunately, wish death upon more auties than I care to admit. The shopkeepers seemed hesitant to give candy to Petra. We were able to score with some, but with others we were given the stone face even with the song. The little Mexican kids were cleaning up, but our intake was sluggish at best. I was bewildered, as it did not seem to be in the disposition of the people here to outrightly refuse something to us that they were given to every other little kid.
Was it because they felt Petra was too young?
Perhaps. But we saw parents going around with kids younger than our daughter and they were getting candy, and Petra can now eat most types of candy.
Was it because we were foreigners?
This was possible. We were the only non-Mexican trick or treaters that we saw out on this night. There is a chance that there was some cultural subtlety that we could not perceive.
Was it because my wife and I sucked at singing the song?
More than likely. Apparently, the better you sing the more candy you received. We were able to come away with a light bag of spoils, but, by all accounts, our trick or treating success was on par to how well we perform:
Not too hot.
Whatever it was, some shopkeepers did not seem too pleased with us coming into their shops asking for small pumpkins. Many out rightly refused to give candy to Petra while filling up the bags of the Mexican kids. Even in shops that we frequent daily we were prone to see an employee give candy to a Mexican kid and then refuse to even look at us.
Further investigation is surely needed.
Though it is fortunate for us that this night of trick or treating was essentially just a warm up for Halloween the following day, and, in Mexico, Halloween is essentially a preemptive round up for Day of the Dead, which occurs on the first and second of November. In Mexico, Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the Spanish All Saints and All Souls Days are celebrated in tandem, and trick or treating, costume wearing, and the celebrating the flip side of life spans three or four nights in a row.
Good thing, as my family definitely could use the practice.
Sources: Calabacita Tia | Day of the Dead
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