I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 15 years explaining that truly, Halloween is just an excuse to sell, buy and eat tons of candy and walk around looking like idiots. I threw a tiny party for my daughter on Oct. 31st last year, and after her school friends and moms had checked out her mermaid-carved pumpkin and Miraculous Ladybug costume, one of the mothers told me she was relieved that the celebration wasn’t as creepy and dark as she had imagined.
It always makes me smile because to me, Latin American ghost stories are so much scarier than anything I was told as a child as I traipsed around the neighborhood with a pillowcase. Not even “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” whose haunting tales and terrifying sketches I pored over for years. (Remember “Bloody Mary”?)
La Llorona, whose cries can be heard by the river at night as she mourns the children she drowned? If she doesn’t scare you before you’re a mom, she’ll make your blood run cold afterwards. La Segua, the beautiful woman who suddenly reveals her evil, horse’s face? I’ve heard people talk very matter-of-factly about running into her at night around our neighborhood. El Coco, who inspired the lullaby Duérmete niño, duérmete ya, que viene el Coco y te comerá (Sleep now, child, or the Coco will come and eat you)? Seriously? How does anyone ever close their eyes around here?
Maybe the dead grass is always spookier and spikier on the other side of the fence. Maybe I’m scared by the stories I’ve heard in Costa Rica because they are unfamiliar. On the other hand, maybe Latin America’s affinity for magic in everyday life means that my husband and other people around me in Costa Rica find it totally natural to talk about these stories as a point of fact, or describe these characters as if they were distant family members – whereas to me, scary stories that don’t stay squarely within the covers of a book are downright terrifying.
Whether you get your thrills from La Llorona or Freddy Kreuger, and whether your kids dress up on El Día del Niño or Halloween, I wish you a Halloween that’s as scary as you want it to be, as sweet as a stale bite-sized Twix, and as free as those first steps out onto the sidewalk on a chilly October night.
(The book in the image is by Sambumbia, whose line of handmade cloth-covered notebooks, T-shirts and other products are available at Alma Artesana in Curridabat, San José. You can check them out online here.)
I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter).
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