While we in the US are all hyped about upcoming Halloween, Asia is relatively quiet. Turns out, the spooky holiday is not popular among the Chinese, but they have other traditional days of the dead that are well-known and widely celebrated.
Halloween in China
Foreign languages teachers do their best to introduce their students to the foreign culture, this is why they would usually have a themed lesson and tell the story of the holiday’s origin and traditions. Moreover, they would encourage children to make decorations or go trick-or-treating, but only a few Chinese would do that and mostly if they have foreign friends.
- A lot of foreigners live in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, so there one can attend a themed party (or even a dress-up event) in an expat-oriented bar or restaurant decorated for the occasion with every familiar symbol of Halloween from black cats to ghosts and jack-o-lanterns.
- Two big theme parks located in Hong Kong, Ocean Park, and Disneyland, would organize Halloween activities that include costumes, haunted houses, scary movies, and everything that can make your spine tingle.
- There is a chic office building in Shanghai, also known as 1933 Shanghai. Turns out, it was built in 1933 and used to be a slaughterhouse then, so now it revives the association every year with thematic Halloween events for adults.
Chinese Days of the Dead
Halloween originated from the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain and was believed to be the night when the dead crossed the border and roamed the world of the living as ghosts. It now is a family-oriented holiday with lots of kid-friendly activities and fun. However, many British and American people still take it quite seriously and associate the day with religious prayers or witchcraft.
Chinese days of the dead have a different, more religious nature, as they are a part of the folk religion called Daoism. The Chinese believe that these days are more auspicious for the spirits to cross over and enter the world of the living, so they take precautions to ward off evil and honor the dead to coax them. The Chinese believe that if they treat ghosts decently enough, the latter may help or protect them.
In China, festivals of the dead are held on several separate days and a whole month. They have peculiar names like the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Qing Ming Festival, the last day of the seventh lunar month, and the Spring Festival.
- The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as the Zhongyuan Festival among Taoists, is observed on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month and is actually very similar to Halloween.
- The scariest month of the Chinese lunar calendar is the 7th, as, according to an ancient belief, ghosts are let out of hell on its very first day and continue to travel and look for fun all around China for a whole month, also known as the Ghost Month. The Chinese stay away from risky activities like swimming or being alone at night during the month, as they believe there are many evil ghosts that can do them harm.
- The gates of hell are believed to close up again on the final day of the 7th lunar month, and people observe and celebrate the day in various days. They may burn banknotes and clothes to pass them on to the dead in hell. Taoist monks chant to encourage ghost return to hell. Many people float river lanterns to guide ghosts back to where they belong.
- The Qing Ming Festival is observed each spring, on the 4th or 5th of April. Its alternative name is Tomb Sweeping Day, so families head out to cemeteries to repair and clean their ancestor’s resting places. Many Chinese families even have ancestral tombs. But this is not a sad day; with all the cleaning up, decorating, worshipping the dead and presenting food, it is more like a family outing.
- The Double Nine Festival is observed on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese calendar, hence the name. It is another day for worshipping the dead, but also for family walks in the mountain. They observe the fall change of foliage color and drink chrysanthemum tea, which is known to boost immunity during this period of changeable weather.
- The Chinese Spring Festival marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year. It is a very lush celebration with festivities, fireworks, vacations, and family reunions. Initially, fireworks were blown up because they were believed to ward off evil spirits.