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Halloween in China by John Abbot

Halloween derives from the old Irish rituals surrounding Hallows Eve in which the spirits of the dead returned to walk the earth and offerings were left out to appease them while the living huddled indoors until the visitations passed. Our Halloween, which takes place on October 31st every year, is not celebrated in China except as a commercial adventure, giving bars, restaurants and shops one more occasion on which to sell their goods and people in China, both Expats and Chinese, one more reason to party hard. This is welcomed by almost all the participants, and is celebrated intensely throughout the night. The following morning, on the other hand, is usually a time for quiet reflection on our sins of the night before, often accompanied by painful and frequent visits on bended knee to prey for deliverence from hell by our porcelain idol who hangs out in the temple known as the WC, Jon, Can, washroom, bathroom or other similar labels.

Chongqing, China, Celebrates Halloween (Photo Courtesy of LIFE)

Halloween at Foreigner Street in Chongqing Municipality, China. Photo courtesy of LIFE

However, there are two spiritual occasions in China that are of a similar nature to Halloween. Bearing in mind that China is a culture that traditionally practised the worship of ancestors as opposed to God, it's only natural that they had rites and beliefs involving the spirits of the deceased.

"One Halloween like occasion is Teng Chieh, the Lantern Festival, which is the last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations.  occurs on the night of the full moon and closes out the Chinese New Year observances. Starting as a spiritual ritual nearly 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty, fireworks and riddle-guessing contests have been added to the festivities.

Lanterns in the shapes of dragons, birds or other animals are hung in streets, placed in parks and outside temples and around homes. Auspicious phrases are often written on them to ward off evil spirits. Some decorate their lantern with a riddle, offering a prize to the first person who solves it.

The light given off by the lanterns is said both to attract heavenly spirits and allow the living to observe them. Celebrations include fireworks, folk dancing, and performances such as the dragon parade and lion dance. The special food associated with the festival is yuanxiao, a round, stuffed dumpling made with sticky rice flour that symbolizes family unity, completeness and happiness." (Info on Teng Chieh courtesy of

"Another festival similar in nature to Halloween is called The Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. In China the souls of the dead, particularly during the seventh lunar month (roughly falling between August and September), wander the earth in search of affection. They are known as the hungry ghosts because of their hunger for recognition and care.

The souls most likely to return are those who died unnatural deaths, and who may not have been given a proper burial or burial place which their families could visit in order to pay them respect. Other Hungry ghosts that are out and about during this time are the spirits of people who either left no living families or whose living families showed no concern for their welfare in the beyond. Bereft of comfort, they feel abandoned and, lacking ancestral worship, may turn malignant and become powerful threats to the living.

The purpose of the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, is dedicated to the earthbound spirits. Its purpose is to make them feel welcome and to satisfy their spiritual hunger. This will placate any possible anger they might have and gain their gratitude.

In the sacred ritual of the day, the spirits are offered joss sticks, food and gifts. The gifts, made of paper, represent objects with which they were familiar while on earth and are intended to make them feel at home. Paper money is burnt on their behalf, to pay for their expenses in the netherworld. Fires are lit to light the way for the hungry ghosts and a gesture of welcome." (Info on Festival of the Hungry Ghosts courtesy of

For the purposes of we Expats in China, however, Halloween is one big excuse to have a party, pretty much the same is it is throughout the western world.

From: Original         Author: John Abbot         Time: 3/5/2010 4:26:02 PM

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