This year was our first Halloween outside of the United States and it was quite an experience! I had a lot of friends and family asking if anyone in China actually celebrates Halloween and I thought I would let you know what I saw whilst living and working in Beijing!
I want to start out by saying that Halloween is a bit different here in China than the United States, but many things remain the same. About the second week in October, my son and I walked into a Walmart and were confronted by a wall full of Halloween decorations. This included the typical window stickers, pumpkin lights, screaming voice boxes, candy buckets, etc. This led me to believe that Halloween was common in China, but a Chinese friend steered me in the right direction. The ‘trick-or-treat’ thing is pretty nonexistent outside of school. We didn’t even bother buying any of the Halloween candy on sale because we knew that no Chinese parents would be bringing kids around our neighborhood. All ‘Halloween activities’ are limited to schools, and not the public ones either. International kindergartens and schools, realtor’s office with a foreign clientele, etc. have celebrations but only because Beijing is such an international city. Many other cities in China have little to do with it.
Our school was having a celebration because of our international teachers, so yay! Both teachers and students were extremely encouraged to wear a costume that day and take part in the festivities. Because the items in the stores are limited to little kid sizes, my family relied entirely on Taobao! Taobao is the Chinese version of Amazon, except their delivery times and prices are 10x better! I had never used Taobao before this month, but a friend helped me and we were able to get some AMAZING costumes! My team agreed to go with a Harry Potter theme and ordered Hogwarts robes online for 350 rmb ($50). They were an incredible deal! The robe is thick (not just a pull-over sheet materials you usually get at Walmart) and had a slot for a wand! It also came with Hogwarts socks, a Ravenclaw scarf, tie, AND matching keychain and pin. I couldn’t believe what great quality it was until I saw the tag that said “Harry Potter Orlando, Florida”!! It is the actual attire that they sell at the theme park and I just got it before they sent it to the USA! I just looked at the Orlando website by the way, and the robe at the park is selling for $125, scarf is $38, tie is $32! I love Taobao! We also ordered Calvin a Sweeney Todd costume (223 rmb) and wig (138 rmb) for $51. The costumes came in only 2 days, but Calvin’s wig took a little over a week. My friend and I called to see what the holdup was and it turned out they made wigs per order. We had a handmade wig made for only $20! These prices were unbelievable and Korey’s was only 68 rmb ($9.75). He didn’t want to be the Grim Reaper but there are only so many sizes available for tall gents. Either way, we all looked incredible also using the 36 rmb($5.16) faceprint we also purchased online!
Our school had an entire event planned that day put on by the art department. Almost ALL of the students and teachers showed up in costume which is numbered over 900 people now. Kids could dress up however they wanted as long as it wasn’t revealing. It was fun to see kids come dressed in masks and faceprint because there is NO concern over a student becoming a homicidal maniac and trying to kill everyone (sorry not sorry USA!). The art department took weeks to transform the art building into a giant fun house with bats descending from the ceilings and black paper arms reaching out at you from the doorways. I was so amazed at how much time some of the teachers put into their costumes! Many departments had themes and some just stood out! We had one teacher dressed like Ursula and another like Medusa. I was envious!
All of the morning classes were cancelled for Halloween! That morning, all of the high school and middle school students started out in the auditorium to begin watching Paranorman. I hadn’t seen it in years and forgotten how funny it was. Then my advisory students started with a scavenger hunt. It was a little chilly, which most of the students appreciated because their costumes made them warm, but so impressive too! Many came as Harry Potter characters, video game icons, and Marvel superheroes. As we walked around, I realized how lucky I am to be Calvin’s advisory teacher because I was with him and his class and got to see him enjoy all the fun! The scavenger hunt led us all around campus in small groups and an activity at each destination hosted by a few high school students. You could tell how much time the art department had put into all of this.
Then we went to the gym and played a bunch of Halloween-themed games that were also hosted by high-school students. They had broomstick hockey, a ring toss over a witch’s hat, Halloween-themed twister, egg walks, tic-tac-toe, etc. The kids ran around and played their favorite games with their friends and had a chance to cut loose. Most days, kids have eight classes and socialization is cut down to lunch or 15-minute break. It was interesting to see them in a different light and hanging out with one another. I also learned a lot about them from their costumes. They would come up to me and ask if I knew who they were and would talk my ear off about it if I had no clue. Some students had some impressive comic-con like costumes and they were so proud of them. I never feel like I had that kind of experience in the USA. There was one kid that had one of those inflatable dinosaur costumes. He was walking past a kindergarten class on the basketball courts and the kindergarteners flipped out. They bolted out of their class’s line and ran for over 40 ft after him so they could ‘pet the dinosaur’. It was pretty hilarious to see these tiny kids chasing an oblivious middle schooler (he really had no idea) and the teachers chasing them down to get them back in line and to their own activities. There was also a face-paint time and Haunted House before we went back to finish the Paranorman movie.
After school, there was a Halloween dance. It was a little different than the ones I am used to back home because there was an enormous food spread and most of the kids focused on eating rather than dancing. Either way, myself and the few of the teachers had prepared a dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the kids seemed to really like it. We had kept it a secret it amongst the staff and I think the surprise was fun for the kids. After a day of candy, activities, and dress-up, most of the middle schoolers were exhausted. I think our first Beijing Halloween was an overwhelming success!