Halloween/Day of the Dead in Cuzco, Peru

Elise was terribly distraught when she realized that she might not be able to celebrate Halloween – to the point that she said that she would rather quit traveling than miss the holiday. Her fears were quickly put to rest, however, when we discovered that Halloween is not only celebrated in Peru, but that it is part of an even bigger, three-day festival that includes the Day of the Dead. I was greatly relieved! And eager to make the holiday about more than just about trick-or-treating.

After visiting a costume shop, we decided to go for a classic Day of the Dead costume. We found a dress and wig at the store, and, just by chance, crocheted roses in a tiny snack shop. I painted Elise’s face (we did without the white base layer because it didn’t work on her skin) and headed out to Plaza de Armas, where the children trick-or-treat at the shops around the square.

She was incredibly shy at first, holding her arms around her and looking around nervously. “Everyone’s looking at me!” she said. Indeed, people kept gushing over her and asking to photograph her. Little kids stopped and stared, jaws dropped. A shopkeeper even photographed her against her logo wall so she that she could use her in her advertising. Her costume may not have been out of the ordinary, but everyone seemed amazed to see a little gringa in it.

We stopped in a church and said prayers for her Dad and mine. The tears streamed down my face. I thought about how each of them would perceive what we were doing. My Dad had immigrated to the US from Germany as a young man. He’d always wanted to visit California. Somehow, however, between family trips to Germany (and sending me there when I was nine) and summer vacations in New England, he never made it. I felt that he was applauding our efforts, and that we were somehow making up for CA for him. Likewise, I was also certain that Elise’s Dad was giving us an enthusiastic thumbs up. He’d spent his childhood in Quito, Ecuador, Santiago, Chile, and Mendoza, Argentina, and the greatest times we’d spent together were visits to Paris and Vienna and treks through the Himalayas, Rocky Mountains, and Shenandoah’s. Indeed, I was sure that he was doing one of his joyful whoops that his youngest was seeing not only the places from his childhood, but the wider world.

At the end of the evening, we came across Elise’s opposite – a little Peruvian girl wearing a gringa costume. The mom and I noticed this at the exact same moment, smiled at each other, and had our daughters stand together for a photo.