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Halloween costumes and candy are on sale in German stores, although the display space is much smaller than at their American counterparts.

Halloween costumes and candy are on sale in German stores, although the display space is much smaller than at their American counterparts. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Little Americans dressed as witches and werewolves soon will be roaming the housing areas of U.S. military bases throughout Germany seeking candy.

But if they just changed their “Trick or treat” to “Süsses oder saures,” they’d probably increase their haul and maybe get a few Ritter Sports to add to their Snickers in the bargain.

In the past few years, German children, too, have taken to getting into costumes and visiting homes for treats as Halloween’s popularity has grown in a country that had no such tradition.

“It’s definitely picking up,” said Annette Carpenter, 63, a German who lives in Edingen, near Heidelberg. “If you see the stores these days, they’re just filled with Halloween stuff. And the kids come to your door, and what they say is ‘Sweet or sour.’

“That reminds me, I still have to buy some candy.”

Carpenter, who is married to an American, said she enjoys the holiday, though Oct. 31 carried a far different meaning when she was young.

“In Germany, the holidays are usually the church holidays,” she said. “I grew up in Hessen so we had the 31st of October off because it was Reformation Day. We were also off on Nov. 1. That was to respect the Catholics who had to go to church. It was strictly religion-oriented.”

A local artist who was born in Israel and has lived his adult life in Germany also finds himself either handing out candy Oct. 31 or taking his costumed son door-to-door for it.

“The younger one is really crazy about it,” said Oded Netivi. “I don’t know if I like it, but I accept it.”

Martin Fleig, 31, a master carpenter, said he had not totally gotten used to the idea.

“The yellow fruits? The pumpkins and the illumination in the houses — that looks great,” he said. “What is not so good is the kids going around: ‘Give us sweets.’ I don’t like that. That stresses me. But to have a reason for a party, this is cool, too.”

In fact, the German Halloween observance seems to have started with parties for adults. The German American Institute in Heidelberg started having costume parties on Oct. 31 some 20 years ago, said director Jakob Kollhofer, who last year dressed as a bull.

“It’s kind of an expansion of fun and entertainment,” Kollhofer said. “It’s just another opportunity for drinking.”

The Web site Cracked.com says it created a feature on “The 30 Most Unsettling German Halloween Costumes” after finding out that most of its American readers were, regrettably, dressing up yet again as Napolean Dynamite.

“As we lament the sad state of America’s proudest holiday, inevitably the question arises, ‘How do the Germans practice Halloween? Are they much better at it than us?’” the Web site asked.

“It turns out that the answer is no ... the German people have little to no skill at coming up with Halloween costumes that aren’t baffling or terrifying,” the Web site concluded.

But Kollhofer said that the German American Institute had canceled its party this year because people were not even bothering with costumes.

“It’s deteriorated,” he said. “No costumes anymore. They just run around and have the usual evening hunt for women.”

Halloween, although now an American export, was brought to the U.S. by the Irish, experts say, derived from the pagan festivals of the pre-Christian Celts mixed with Roman Catholicism.

Halloween means the eve of what in medieval English was All Hallows Eve or All Saints Day, according to encyclopedia.com, and has to do with to Celtic practices associated with Nov. 1. That was called Samhain, the beginning of winter and the Celtic new year, the Web site says.

“Witches and other evil spirits were believed to roam the Earth on this evening, playing tricks on human beings to mark the season of diminishing sunlight. Bonfires were lit, offerings were made of dainty foods and sweets, and people would disguise themselves as one of the roaming spirits, to avoid demonic persecution,” it says.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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