Celebrating Halloween in Cuba

 My kids decorating chocolate chip muffins with cream cheese frosting. 

My kids decorating chocolate chip muffins with cream cheese frosting. 

I'm exhausted and the trick-or-treating hasn't even begun. 

My mother-in-law observed that I've gotten into the Halloween spirit more in Cuba than I would have had we been living in the United States. She's right, even though the tradition of trick-or-treating doesn't exist here.

 Channeling Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze at a Cuban Halloween party.

Channeling Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze at a Cuban Halloween party.

Nowadays a few Cubans are beginning to celebrate Halloween. After the Revolution, the media painted the holiday as a subversive celebration of the United States. Friends have told me that they'd heard that in the U.S., criminals often came out to do bad deeds on Halloween, and the celebration of Halloween in Cuba was actively discouraged for decades (though not outright banned, the way Christmas was). But, "Cubans are always looking for ways to have a party," one friend told me, and in recent years, Cuban youth and private English schools have begun to hold Halloween parties or deck out in costumes for a night of clubbing. (One of my friends has dressed up as Marlon Brando's Godfather; another as a "dead woman" from the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead.)

 My daughter handing out candy at a party for kids' cancer survivors. 

My daughter handing out candy at a party for kids' cancer survivors. 

Over the weekend, I attended three Halloween parties -- two in the expatriate community (one featured a haunted house; another lasted until 3 a.m.) and a Cuban party held by my friends Carmen and Rey, who run a children's cancer charity. Carmen and Rey's party was the highlight. My daughter, mother-in-law, and I arrived at their apartment around 3 in the afternoon and encountered about two dozen youth (all cancer survivors) dancing to salsa music and the Dirty Dancing theme of "I've Had the Time of My Life," complete with the Jennifer Grey-Patrick Swayze flying move. Among the costumes were goblins and witches, Minnie Mouse and a pirate. They coaxed my four-year-old daughter (dressed as Rapunzel) out of her shell and got her dancing the Macarena. One spunky woman, dressed a fortune teller, read her palm. ("I think you will grow long hair and carry us back to the U.S. with you!"). They showed that Cubans, no matter how much hardship they have been through, always know how to have a good time.

 Cecilia, the host of the party that lasted til 3 a.m., and her cute dog.  

Cecilia, the host of the party that lasted til 3 a.m., and her cute dog.  

In the kitchen, after my marshmallow experiment last week, I dialed down my Halloween treat making. With some black-and-orange sprinkles and orange food dye borrowed from my friend Kristin,  I made sugar cookies and cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. The "inventing" included making my own powdered sugar with granulated Cuban sugar put through our coffee grinder and cupcakes made out of a chocolate chip muffin mix that had been languishing in the back of our pantry -- not everything is from scratch in my kitchen! 

Since there's no trick-or-treating in Cuba, some of the foreign families are decorating the trunks of their cars and meeting up on a quiet street for "trunk or treating." Over the weekend, I helped my friend Kristin make a game that she's bringing out for the event: it consists of treats (and tricks) placed in Dixie cups covered with orange tissue paper. The cups are arranged into the shape of a pumpkin and pasted on the side of a cardboard box. The kids will randomly poke through one of the cups to discover something inside -- besides candy, we filled the cups with soap, mayonnaise packets, and toothpaste. Given that we're in Cuba, I have a feeling that the tricks will be just as valued as the treats. 

 Some of the tricks and treats in the game we're making for tonight's "trunk or treating."

Some of the tricks and treats in the game we're making for tonight's "trunk or treating."