Charity event turns Halloween from US import into intercultural success
Halloween often has the reputation of being an imported US holiday in Czechia, but long-term Prague resident Dinah Spritzer wanted to find a way for her half-Czech kids to be able to enjoy trick-or-treating - so she got the idea of making it about more than just children getting candy and joined forces with a Czech charity. The event has since grown from 53 kids taking part seven years ago and raising CZK 14 000 to an expected 1200 – 1300 people participating this year, with Dinah hoping to raise at least CZK 200 000. I spoke to Dinah at her home in Prague‘s Vinohrady district to find out more.
"Trick or treat for charity is just what it sounds like - kids go trick-or-treating in the neighbourhoods of Žižkov, Vínohrady and Vršovice. The difference between this and the typical American trick-or-treat where you just get candy is that this is also about giving. The charity that we give to is SOS Children's Villages. They're quite special because they are the only charity in the Czech Republic and one of the only ones in Europe that provides and builds housing for foster families so that siblings can stay together when they're being taken care of by foster families. In addition, they provide social, psychological and financial support for neglected children."
I presume the kids can't just knock on anybody's door - how do they know where to go and get candy from?
"When I came up with this idea seven years ago, I thought, 'oh wow, how is this going to work?' And so I solicited hosts - and 'solicited' means begging [laughs]. I begged everyone I could find to be a trick-or-treat stop - families, single people, we also came up with the idea of having trick-or-treat stops in parks and on the street, so that people from outside of the area can also participate. They get an official collection box from SOS Children's Villages and they generally have to purchase their own candy. And then I also thought, 'what about businesses?' And so I and a few volunteers approached some local businesses and begged them to participate.
"Perhaps the most complicated matter of all is how do people know where to go? We create an electronic trick-or-treat map with all the stops on it and you have to register to get that map so you know where to go. It has little pumpkin or Dracula signs and it shows not only the address but how long the place will be open for trick-or-treating, because not everybody can do four hours. So some people volunteer from 4-6pm, some from 6-8pm - we really want to give people the option."
How does the raising money part work - do you give some money and get some candy?
"It's minimum CZK 10 per child per stop - so if you have 5 kids with you, they each have to put in CZK 10 and then they get a candy. Now that might sound like an expensive candy, but it's really special to see the look on the kids' faces when you ask them 'What are we doing this for?' and they say in tiny cute little voices, 'To help other children like me.' As a person who grew up with trick-or-treating, I can't tell you what this means to me personally, and also as a mother, what it means for my children to see Halloween as an opportunity to give and not just get."
Where did the idea come from to link it with charity?
"I've lived here since 2001 - my husband is Czech. And I thought, 'It's really not great to bring your holiday to a country where everyone tried to force their holidays, and Americans have a reputation for forcing their stuff on people. So I thought, 'What can I do to make this Czech?' And that was easy - pick a charity that I could benefit.
"So that was the origin, but what I found out was that if you tell Czech people that you're doing trick-or-treating and Halloween, especially the older generation will say (sarcastically), 'Oh, thanks for bringing your American holiday to us.' But the minute they learn it's for a Czech charity, everything changes. The response in my building and on the streets has been that people everywhere start putting in money. They're some of the most philanthropy-minded people in the world. You will find people with nothing who are willing to support children."