On the eve of 31 October, many Western countries come alight with the glow of countless jack-o’-lanterns that signify the arrival of Halloween. In China, Halloween celebrations among the younger generation are gradually becoming more and more popular. Kids’ Halloween parties and pumpkin-carving is becoming a favourite with less conservative parents in big cities. Nonetheless, apart from a few expat-oriented bars and pubs, the practice of dressing-up is nowhere near as widespread as in the West.
There is, however, no shortage of traditional festivals dedicated to the dead in Chinese culture. In fact, the majority of festivals contain an element of sacrificing offerings in the form of money, food and wine to deceased ancestors. Qing Ming Festival, Ghost Festival and Spring Festival are among the better-known ones.
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost festival, falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. It stems from Taoist and Buddhist belief that on this day the gate that separates the world of the dead from the world of the living opens, and ghosts are believed to visit the living in their homes. To appease the hungry ghosts, their living descendants prepare elaborate feasts and burn joss paper. In many ways, the Hungry Ghost festival is similar to Halloween in the West.
The Qing Ming Festival is celebrated 108 days after the winter solstice. During the Qing Ming Festival, unlike during the hungry Ghost festival, the living visit the dead at their graves and bring offerings in the form of food, wine and chopsticks. They sweep the graves and burn joss money and firecrackers.
The Spring Festival, the most well-known among all Chinese festivals, is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese lunar calendar. Traditionally, the Spring festival was a time to honour deities as well as ancestors. During the Spring festival, the whole family gathers from different cities and provinces for a reunion. Offerings to ancestors play a big part in the proceedings. The lunar calendar is consulted about the specificities of which way to face when bowing and making offerings. Traditionally, dumplings (jiaozi) are offered to the ancestors to invite them to join in the festivities.
There is a distinctive difference between Chinese and Western cultures in the way they interact with ghosts. While in Western culture Halloween is the height of human-ghost interaction, in Chinese culture deceased ancestors play a much larger part throughout the year. The interaction between the dead and the living is not limited to a few select days in the year. People commonly burn joss paper and offer wine at street corners. Although strict guidelines that guide the process of interaction are put in place in the cities, people that live in the countryside have a much closer relationship with their dead ancestors. We only need to look at how graves form a natural part of the architectural landscape in the countryside to see that the divide between dead and living is nowhere near as defined as it is in the West. For the Chinese, it is not just during Halloween that the worlds of the living and the dead come together.
Historically, Halloween is an American tradition, however it has now spread all over the world. People everywhere are dressed up as scary monsters and bloody bodies. Of course the amount of people that dress up depends on the country they live in. Here in China they don’t have a national holiday for Halloween, so when people celebrate it, they do so on the weekend and usually near places where a lot of westerners are.
In Zhuhai you could only find two places where they celebrated Halloween. One was a western bar, called London Lounge and the other was at the bar street here in Zhuhai. Nearly all InternChina Interns went to the London Lounge. Arriving at the London Lounge, a lot of people were dressed up – but mostly western people. Afterwards we headed to the second Halloween location – the bar street. All trees in the Street were full of bright pumpkins. Walking down the street of clubs, some of the Chinese people were surprised by our look. Two night clubs were decked out in scary decorations.
Some international schools in Zhuhai had Halloween parties as well, but just during the day and with a lot of small children. Not scary enough for real Halloween experts.
Preparation for Halloween wasn’t that easy in Zhuhai. The underground market seemed to have ignored Halloween and offered the same stuff as usual. Only in the western supermarket Carrefour, there was a small section of Halloween costumes and decorations. If you are well prepared – so think about what you want to wear well in advance – you could order some costumes on the internet. However face paint could be found everywhere and, together with a lot of creativity, we made up our own last-minute-Halloween costumes. The ghost was pretty much the easiest 🙂
At least we had a lot of fun, celebrating Halloween here in Zhuhai.
Frank as Superman.. soon to be SuperDad.
Next our mom to be… love the sideburns Yifan 😛
Jamie Bettles.. as Captain England!
Amber – as spiderwoman
And the last one for the day.. Leo Wang as our fearless warrior Indiana Jian!
Hope you enjoyed them, Check back tomoro for part two!!