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If you’re ever hoping to sound stupid in front of an Indian person, try explaining Halloween.

It’s easy to forget that some of the most ingrained elements of American or Western life have no corollary here.  Most basics like food and clothing can be compared to Indian food or clothing. But some concepts just don’t translate.

On this occasion, it all started with my pirate peeler.

My pirate peeler with its 'pumpkin' peels

My pirate peeler is one of  my favorite possessions – it’s a basic peeler painted to look like a pirate. Nisha used it to peel pumpkin (or what she called pumpkin – it looked to me like a long green squash, but who am I to argue) and thought it was very funny.

“What is this supposed to be?” she asked.
“It’s a pirate!” I replied, not realizing how dumb I probably sounded.
“What?”
“You know? Pirates? Did you ever see Pirates of the Caribbean?” I lamely exclaimed, hoping that those movies had perhaps made their way here.

“Yeah, I know,” she nodded.

“Well, at University my roommates and I liked pirates and we dressed up like pirates for Halloween and so for Christmas one year one of them got me the pirate peeler.”

Nisha stared at me like I was speaking gibberish. And to her, I was. Here I was telling her that I dressed like a pirate while supposedly studying at University.

“I assume there’s no Halloween here?” I said.  Nisha looked at me blankly. Then I started digging the hole:

“Well, it’s this holiday. I think it originally came from a holiday called All Hallows Eve where spirits and ghosts could come out. Then somehow… it became a holiday where children dress up in costumes and go door to door asking for candy.”

“Why candy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it religious?”
“No.”
“What kind of costumes?”

I was starting to feel like the whole thing sounded ridiculous to someone who had never seen it. And it is a little ridiculous. But it’s an accepted part of our lives so I’ve never questioned it.

Culture is a funny thing – to most of the world, unique traditions probably can look incredibly stupid.  Many evolve over time to the point where they’re impossible to rationally explain. Why DO we give candy and dress up on Halloween? Why is the birth of Jesus celebrated most often with presents and Santa?  Why do most Americans (of Irish-descent or not) take St Patricks day as an excuse to wear green and drink?

I’m sure there are reasons – but the average person couldn’t explain why. We just go along with it because its something we’ve always done and its fun.

But, right as I was feeling like I could never explain Halloween, I was reminded that ridiculous cultural traditions may each be unique- but everyone has them.

“My favorite festival in Mumbai is Ganesh Chaturthi,” Nisha said. “All the Hindus take statues of Ganesh and bring them into the sea. That probably is as crazy as Halloween.”

And just like that, I didn’t need to explain myself.

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