Panamanians and Halloween

I don’t know what it’s like in your country but I can sure tell you what it’s like here: Panama has the distinction of being one of the only countries in the world that has designed its independence holidays in such a way that it renders the month they’ve ended up in absolutely pointless… I believe it will reach a point where the government will one day declare the month of November as officially dead in terms of school and labor. Yes… November is basically “Panama month,” with holidays on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 28th. And those are just the national holidays; across the interior there’s a cause for celebration almost every day if you time your trip right. November 1st used to be Children’s national day but the first lady rectified that last year by changing the date to the worldwide official date, which escapes me at this moment. So yes, what does all of this have to do with Halloween, you ask?

Panama has a lot of street vendors. A lot of street vendors. They’re savvy, too; they’ll sell just about anything that you might or might not need, from various types of fruit and beverages to cell phone accessories, calling cards, hammocks, sunglasses, toys, school supplies, and pirated copies of movies and porn. You name it… they’ve got it. So, with that said their merchandise varies according to the season and ever since mid-October I’ve noticed that they’ve begun to shell out the Panamanian flag in various shapes and sizes for your car and/or home… they’re $1.50 or so if you don’t negotiate, the smaller ones. Funny thing about that is that, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been on vacations or organizing the Zombie Walk or whatever but I’ve noticed that had I not passed by the street vendors around my neighborhood a couple of days ago I would’ve completely forgot that these special holidays were coming. I was so into this Halloween thing that I totally forgot about my country’s holidays, and I’m sure that just like me a lot of other people have given All Hallow’s Eve far more importance than the November holidays. This happens every year, too: I always read something somewhere or watch a report on TV how Panamanians are more interested in an American holiday than they are their own and what not but I mean, can you blame us? Halloween is f-u-n. Sadly, we as Panamanians look at holidays as an excuse to take a few days off work and get smammered… why do you think that Carnivals are Panama’s most popular holiday, one that people plan months in advance for? Don’t kid yourself: if you’re Panamanian and reading this, a corner of your mind is already thinking about what beach or other vacation spot you can go to so you can get drunk and have some fun instead of doing whatever it is we’re supposed to do when our independence day comes around.

In 2003, Panama celebrated its first 100 years of independence. Our independence day is on November 3rd, and there was a lot of patriotism going around… moreso than ever before. I went out with the Bastardizer, Magnus, and Serge in the car and decided to go out for a drive and you’ll never believe how the streets were that night; it was a city-wide party where time stopped and the alcohol kept coming by the truckload. Driving in certain areas was pointless due to the legions of people spilling out of the sidewalks and taking over the streets with a total disregard for authority and incoming vehicles. I know that for as long as I live I’ll never see something like that done for Halloween. Our inherent disposition to party for whatever bullshit excuse we can come up with is such a part of us that denying it is downright ridiculous… I know that if I found some obscure holiday coming from somewhere in Europe that included alcohol and announced it in Panama long enough for it to catch wind it’d end up being as valid a holiday as Halloween without a sweat. We love to party that much. A couple of years ago there was an ordinance that outlawed wearing full face masks in public because some gangs took the opportunity of Halloween to rob, kill and even rape people using the holiday as a cover. Of course, who’s gonna notice you when everyone around you is wearing some type of disguise?

The M.O for Halloween celebration is pretty much the same template discos and bars use for every other holiday that comes down the pipe: get some “hot” reggae artist and stick him on the stage, do some promotion on the bottles and charge people twice as they would any regular night. Before I would see this practice as a ripoff and anyone dumb enough to fall for it downright silly but now I kind of understand why things are the way they are and up to some point even accept it; if I was a club owner I’d charge people half price for it being a special occasion as well, even if I’m offering them the same exact thing I offer them every other night with the only difference being that since the people themselves come with that holiday mentality, they somehow make the party themselves… like a ridiculously glorified dance party. I, the club, provide the space and the music. You, the consumer, pay for your time there. Then, you pay for whatever you’re going to drink, because I didn’t pull that vodka bottle you’re drinking from out of my ass. I need to keep the place up so you can keep coming, so I will charge you extra. Since I put food on the table by providing you with the vices you love, I will charge you a little more for myself. You pay, because you have it in you to want to have fun, and going to a club beats the hell out of organizing something on your own, yes? Ahh, what a wise investment. You want to dress up like a hot bumblebee sex bomb but want to do so in a controlled environment where other people are looking for the same thrills but without any real consequences? Stick those big tits in that costume then, darling. I’ll sell you the alcohol you need so that you don’t feel silly about dressing up anymore, and I’ll be thankful because it’s you, big-breasted bumblebee, that will attract the men that want to fill your pot with honey inside. More power to me. The snowball falls down the hill and nothing can stop it as it gets bigger and bigger.

Clubs and bars can’t do that sort of thing with Panamanian holidays because of the ridiculous amount of free days we get. Free days means that people will take off to the interior and get hammered. Those who don’t will stay in the city and get hammered just as well, but the point of the matter is that either way they won’t be able to do it in the clubs and bars they usually get plastered in. Halloween is the last chance for these establishments to provide fun and get some cash before the long holiday “drought” arrives. Of course, we all kind of fall into that consumerism no matter what we do in order to have fun. I bought a ridiculous amount of makeup and other things for the Zombie Walk. the people who attended the zombie walk, as awesome as they are, still had to buy their make up materials and what not. I had a couple of Halloween beers that night, as did many in the zombie horde. I encountered said bumblebee hottie while I was paying for my Halloween breakfast at Niko’s Café later that night as well. I’ll probably buy one of those Panamanian flags too, and stick it in my car. I’m that much of a consumer whore and I’ve accepted it. It’s a give-and-take process, in the end: be it Carnivals, Halloween, Panama’s Independence or whatever other holiday you want to come up with, you can see it as one of these two:

a) a false “holiday” just to take advantage of the consumer in you by coercing you into buying a silly costume and have fun while you’re at it.. because it’s what the media tells you you should do.

b) an excuse to dress silly, act silly and be downright silly for at least one night. It’s one of the only nights of the year (if you’re really that subdued by the society you live in) where you can act out your darkest desires, be that person you don’t allow yourself to be generally and have some fun while you’re at it.

The whole trick or treat thing is not as practiced as I would like, considering that getting free candy for dressing up like a ghost is quite possibly one of the most amazing ideas in modern history, but in the most well-off neighborhoods (and of course that the ex-pat, predominantly-foreign neighborhoods such as Albrook, Balboa, Diablo, et al.) you still see the strands of kids dressed up as their favorite characters asking strangers for candy. Most people don’t even know how Halloween came about but I don’t think that’s as much of a Panamanian thing as it is a universal thing that usually happens with traditions that are hundreds of years old and people just sort of accept them as part of their culture without really asking themselves “why.” Before I leave you with your Hallow’s Eve festivities, I’d like to wish you a very happy Halloween. Too bad it’s a Tuesday. Have fun out there, take some pictures and take advantage of this excuse to do something stupid. From Wikipedia:

Halloween is a tradition celebrated on the night of October 31, most notably by children dressing in costumes and going door-to-door collecting sweets, fruit, and other treats. It is celebrated in parts of the Western world, most commonly in the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland and Puerto Rico, and with increasing popularity in Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Philippines. In recent years, Halloween is also celebrated in parts of Western Europe, such as Belgium and France. Halloween originated as a Pagan festival among the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain with Irish, Scots, Welsh and other immigrants transporting versions of the tradition to North America in the 19th century. Most other Western countries have embraced Halloween as a part of American pop culture in the late 20th century.

The term Halloween, and its older spelling Hallowe’en, is shortened from All-hallow-even, as it is the evening before “All Hallows’ Day”[1] (also known as “All Saints’ Day”). The holiday was a day of religious festivities in various northern European Pagan traditions, until Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the old Christian feast of All Saints Day from May 13 to November 1. In Ireland, the name was All Hallows’ Eve (often shortened to Hallow Eve), and though seldom used today, it is still a well-accepted label. The festival is also known as Samhain or Oíche Shamhna to the Irish, Calan Gaeaf to the Welsh, Allantide to the Cornish and Hop-tu-Naa to the Manx. Halloween is also called Pooky Night in some parts of Ireland, presumably named after the púca, a mischievous spirit.

Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the liminal times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world and when magic is most potent (e.g. Catalan mythology about witches, Irish tales of the Sídhe).

Just so you know, here’s Porto Diao’s gallery for the 2006 Zombie Walk Panama, which took place on Oct. 28th. Here’s my recap, as well as other links with pics and impressions of the walk. Enjoy!


    I’m out reading Halloween related posts by expatriate bloggers…and putting the links to them on my blog.

    Meilleurs vœux!

  • I’m not an expat but hey, thanks for stopping by! I hope you come back soon… your blog makes for interesting reading, too!

  • Well said. I hope you also write about people celebrating Thanksgiving in Panama, which is even more absurd than Halloween!

  • Oops! Sorry about the misnomer…still, I’m glad I stopped by…and that you did too!

    Meilleurs vœux!

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