Our Okinawa Halloween
This was our second year celebrating Halloween in Okinawa and it just gets better and better. It hasn't always been an easy decision to stay in our little village up north when most people are flocking to the bases, but it's most definitely the right decision for us. We are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate a predominantly American holiday with our local neighbors that have become a part of our daily lives.
This blog post is specifically about Halloween but I think it can be applied to all of our big holidays - Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever holiday you love celebrating that makes you reminisce about home. The joy we feel when we celebrate holidays is always better when it's shared!
Familiar holidays far from home can be a tricky thing. But I'm here today to suggest that they don't have to be. When we spend time overseas, it's easy to wring our hands and wonder just how we're going to make it feel like "the real thing". I'd like to challenge you as ambassadors in foreign places that we look outward. It's just like the quote from Ezra Taft Benson "If you really want to receive joy and happiness, then serve others with all your heart." Sometimes looking outward and serving others will require you to change your traditions a little or come up with new ones.
For Halloween the last two years we made the decision to stay at home. Halloween is just barely catching on where we live so it meant we had to do trick-or-treating a little differently. We got dressed up and walked around our village spreading the Halloween tradition by handing out candy. And thats everyone from passersby crossing the street, kids walking their dog, foremen working late at a construction site, to locals shopping and/or working at the nearby Lawson's...(not a sponsor), Sharing our candy as a roaming band of characters excited the neighbors and encouraged us to get out of our comfort zone. It may be the exact opposite of trick-or-treating back in the states but sometimes you do what you gotta do!
Naturally we received lots of curious stares from people we passed on the street but we excitedly told everyone "Happy Halloween!" Then we taught them to say "trick-or-treat!" as we handed them candy. Many of them already knew the popular phrases and everyone was stoked to get some American candy. We even walked to our local Lawson and continued to pass out candy to customers and employees.
One of our kids' favorite parts of this new tradition was being allowed to pick out two of anything they wanted from Lawson. (If you don't live in Okinawa or Japan, check out this article that has a cool history of Lawson.) We knew they wouldn't be going house to house to fill their buckets with candy so we wanted to provide them with an alternative. We lifted all the normal rules of what sweets and treats they were allowed to choose. Freedom!
We walked around as a family to all of our favorite spots in our little village passing out candy as we went along. The genuine smiles on people's faces as they realized we were stopping to say "Happy Halloween" and then give them candy was easily the best part of the night. Spreading joy and including others in our tradition left us with a happiness that can't be bought.
We ended the trick-or-treating back on our street and enjoyed watching more kids come out as the evening went on. Our kids got to run around and play with other neighbors without any of the normal barriers that usually come along with cultural and language differences.
We had the opportunity to interact with people we usually only see in passing. And in turn we were able to build bridges just by staying in our neighborhood and inviting others to be a part of our celebration. Just two days after Halloween I was outside playing with the kids and one of our neighbors that we gave candy to on Halloween walked across the street to talk to me. The smile on his face spread across his cheeks, and he reached out to emphatically grab my hand in between both of his hands and he excitedly said "Halloween!!" Our ability to speak each other's languages might be limited, but the ability to build relationships regardless of these barriers is only limited by our willingness to open ourselves to others.
I encourage you to include others in your favorite traditions whether you live overseas or in the same place you've always been. You never know what impact you might have on someone's life, so let's live in our neighborhoods with intentional kindness towards others. Don't be afraid to stay at home and invite your neighbors to be a part of your life. I can promise you from experience that it spreads joy!