Halloween in the ’Hai

IMG_4161Family and friends often ask me how Western holidays are celebrated in China. Christmas decorations are very popular here now, particularly in luxury malls, and young couples have embraced Valentine’s Day wholeheartedly. But Halloween hasn’t really caught on yet. One of the things that surprised me when I was in Hong Kong was seeing how many stores and markets had costumes and special bags of fun-sized Halloween candy for sale—those are both still uncommon on the mainland.

I didn’t see many children in costume yesterday, and those that I did spot were all clearly foreigners. I’m sure that the high-end housing compounds where some expats live organized trick-or-treating for the kids in the community, but overall, Halloween isn’t much of an event in Shanghai—yet. I did notice many more Halloween decorations this year. These were still mostly limited to malls and Western bars/restaurants, but definitely more prevalent than I recall in the past. At least one of the big shopping malls on Huaihai Road was also advertising a massive “Halloween Sale.” Things move so fast in China that I wouldn’t be surprised to see full-scale Halloween celebrations taking place within the next few years.

I think this is especially likely because Chinese parents (particularly middle-class ones in big cities like Shanghai) want their children to be culturally “bilingual”—comfortable with foreign customs and practices so they can move smoothly between China and the West. As this China Daily article discusses, some kindergartens in China are trying to encourage Halloween celebrations in the name of such cultural fluency. Not all parents are behind the effort, especially those who worry the holiday, with its ghosts and goblins, will scare their small children. (Wait until sexy Halloween costumes hit China. Then they really won’t be happy.)

But I smiled when I saw that there’s also a much more basic, and universal, reason for some parents’ anti-Halloween stance: because asking children to bring jack-o’-lanterns to class really means forcing parents to make jack-o’-lanterns:

“After spending 1.5 hours on the pumpkin, I was exhausted and just painted some color on it,” [one mother] said, adding that although the kindergarten asked parents to make a lantern with their children, her 3-year-old could do little to help.

This is a perfect example of why my mother has always hated school projects. (Though “we” made a great igloo cake “together” when I was in second grade!*)

But I would bet that even in the face of unenthusiastic parents, a holiday that involves dressing up in costume and receiving candy will be quick to catch on among Chinese children. Maybe, if I’m lucky, caramel apples won’t be too far behind.

* Or, I thought it was great until a moment ago when I googled “igloo cake.” Ours did not have penguins frolicking on it. Mom, I think we need to try again.

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