Don’t think you can stick a sheet over your kid and call it a day, and carve a watermelon, not a pumpkin – here are some key Halloween tricks and treats for parents
Pro tips for celebrating Halloween with kids in the UAE
Halloween in the UAE is a bit like the restaurants: highly themed, expensive and competitive. Don’t think you can stick a sheet over your kid and call it a day. Last year, when I strong-armed my daughters into already existing princess dresses, we passed a girl dressed as a giant jellyfish. She had an umbrella affixed over her head, tentacles dangling down and fairy lights that illuminated when anyone approached. She was an electric jellyfish powered by a portable battery pack. My children glared at me.
If you are hunting for costumes you can take advantage of the great fabric shops here and make something yourself, or there are also places to buy Halloween costumes (see list, right) – but be prepared to spend about Dh250 as a starting point for anything good. These are your classic costumes-in-a-bag: superhero get-ups, princess dresses, animals, monsters.
It’s a good idea to buy these, given the crazy predilection in the UAE for costume-themed days at school – superhero day, book day, maths day (how is that a costume day?), knights and princesses days – and the costume-themed birthday parties people seem to keep on holding.
If you’re organised, buy online ahead of time on Souq.com or Amazon with Shop & Ship – the savings are worth it.
Now, what to do about the pumpkin? During my family’s first year in Abu Dhabi, we were so keen to follow traditions that I dispatched my husband to find a carvable pumpkin and ignored every text when he said he was coming up with nothing. He returned hours later, dispirited, dejected but with a pumpkin from Spinneys – for a whopping Dh160. I nearly threw him out of the house.
Experienced UAE Halloweeners do not make this mistake: they carve a watermelon instead. This works just as well, and is a 10th of the price. It’s even slightly more fun for the kids because they can eat the watermelon chunks as they go, rather than pleading to have a go at wielding the knife. And it looks quite smart with the vertical stripes and green exterior.
Next, you have to decorate your home. If you live in a compound and you don’t want to be ostracised, get on board with the cardboard paper.
Carrefour, Lulu and Daiso all have reasonably priced Halloween decorations: I am partial to the cotton spider-webbing that you can stretch over plants and doors. Spooky, but also quite cool. You can buy little plastic spiders for props and use those later to let your children fake-scare you. I’ve said it before, but a little anarchy goes a long way. Don’t forget to get jack-o’-lantern containers for the kids to carry candy – plastic bags are just not good enough.
Donations rather than candies
When I was growing up, Unicef had a programme where they would offer boxes to schoolchildren whose parents wanted them to collect donations rather than candies. Oh, how I pitied those children. They were the same ones whose parents didn’t let them watch television and who came to school during election time with pin badges for the Democratic candidates in the city. Now, in a little twist of irony I shall trip lightly over, I am one of those parents. There’s no Unicef scheme here, but I’d like to seed the idea: if anyone knows how to action this, please let me know on Twitter @MelissaGronlund.
As to where and when to trick-or-treat: most compounds will have parties and schemes where kids can traipse from house to house. If you’re new, and live in a building, it’s OK to invite yourself to these. Also, many of the compounds have a way to signal whether you’ve opted in or not; if you don’t want to offer candy, you can check with your management to see what the procedures might be.
There’s some mum and dad chat lately about the fact that store-bought costumes are made of polyester, which can be quickly set alight. The worry is that jack-o’-lanterns are lit by candles, so you have a perfect storm of sudden proximity to an open flame and an unusually flammable outfit.
Some parents have now taken to carrying wool blankets around with them just in case a costume should come into contact with a flame: whether you think this is modern parenting gone mad or actually quite a sensible thing, is up to you.
I wouldn’t have thought of it myself, but feel duty-bound to pass it on. And finally, for the sake of people without children – those happy, free souls – go easy on the Instagram.