This past weekend was Halloween, so for those of you interested in teaching in China, you may be wondering how the holiday of ghouls and goblins is observed in the East.
Halloween originated from the Celts in Great Britain, who believed that the last day of October marked a time when the boundary between life and death dissipated and ghosts could move freely between two worlds. Today, for those living in the West, Halloween is known by all as a day in which people dress in costumes, trick-or-treat, decorate pumpkins, and go to parties.
In China, most people do not observe Halloween. 万圣节 (Wànshèngjié), as it is called in Chinese, is almost exclusively celebrated by the expat population. Some foreign teachers provide Chinese students with lessons about Halloween and set up parties. Many of our teachers here at GoGlobal Jobs carve pumpkins with students, hand out candy, and hold parties in the classroom.
If you are an expat and have children, there are unfortunately not many opportunities for them to trick-or-treat. Specific communities may hold events for expat children, so definitely look around and do some research. Otherwise, I suggest finding other child-friendly, fun activities for Halloween, such as amusement parks, visiting scenic spots in your city, or even KTV, if your children are older.
In terms of nightlife for adults on October 31, Halloween parties are typically held at expat-oriented bars and restaurants in cities all over China. Bars and restaurants frequented by foreigners often put up decorations of ghosts, monsters, and the like to prepare for spooky parties.
In Shanghai, a former slaughterhouse-turned-office, called 1933 Shanghai, hosts a Halloween event every year. Finding Halloween events in cities with high foreign populations is quite easy – talk with other expats, read expat publications, or simply just search the web.
Halloween in China
In terms of the general population, few Chinese people celebrate All Hallows’ Eve. However, this doesn’t mean that there are absolutely zero Chinese people who are looking into this Western tradition. For the slowly growing population of Chinese people that are beginning to celebrate Halloween, it seems that the spooky and scary aspects of the holiday are far more popular than humor and personality.
Most of the Chinese people I personally encountered on Halloween decorated themselves in dramatic face paint and black clothing. As these young adults begin to venture into Halloween customs, I believe that children will also gradually start to take part in the festivities. This past Saturday I even saw a few parents walking on the street with children dressed in costumes.
Whatever you do on Halloween in China, be creative and try to make it a cross-cultural event between yourself and Chinese students, friends, and/or colleagues. By doing so, you can potentially be ‘paid back’ by them and experience traditional Chinese culture through celebrating Chinese holidays.
China actually has a few holidays that could be considered the Eastern equivalents of Halloween, including the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节, Zhōngyuán Jié) and Tomb-Sweeping Day (清明节, Qīngmíng jié).
The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the year. This day represents when ghosts and spirits come out from the lower realm to visit the living, especially deceased ancestors. Chinese customs on this day include burning hell bank notes and joss paper, as well as making offerings of food and drink to the dead in order to comfort them in the afterlife.
Tomb-Sweeping Day is observed on the fifteenth day after the Spring Equinox, either April 4th or 5th depending on the year. Families go out on this day to visit, tend to, and repair their ancestors’ graves. This is an opportunity for both old and young family members to honor their ancestors by offering food, tea, wine, joss paper items, etc.
These two holidays are rooted in the Chinese notion of placing importance on and respecting the dead/one’s ancestors. The original concept of Halloween is extremely similar to both the Hungry Ghost Festival and Tomb-Sweeping Day. Both of these traditional Chinese holidays incorporate extremely interesting and unique rituals that are definitely worth experiencing as a foreigner.
From all of us at GoGlobal Jobs, we hope current and prospective teachers enjoyed their Halloween celebrations this year and are prepared for observing both Western and Eastern holidays in China in the future.
Cover image: smartshanghai.com