I taught English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the largest language university in China some years ago. We, of course, discussed all the holidays in America as they approached. Though Halloween is not typically celebrated in China, my students were fascinated by the idea of it. After much scurrying around, they finally found something that actually looked like a pumpkin, weighed about ten pounds, but was some type of large, yellow winter squash and wanted to carve it as we had discussed in class. An outing was in order as I didn’t want the mess in the classroom. Off to the Purple Bamboo Park we walked with a picnic lunch and the essentials to carve the “pumpkin” into a Jack-o-Lantern. They had a great time and a couple of students even brought along Beijing Opera Masks to wear. It was one of the few sunny days in late autumn, and we sat on blankets and enjoyed carving and being in the sun and practicing our English. Several strangers came by to see what we were doing and ask questions about this American custom. My students explained all they had learned in class to the casual passers by.
In the evening we put the carved pumpkin with a candle inside in the lobby window of our apartment building and all my other classes came by to trick-or-treat and have cookies, beer and whiskey in our apartment. While the students were there, several children of the other language teachers in the building came by to trick-or-treat as well. One didn’t speak English, so my Chinese students taught her how to say “trick or treat” in English. There were lots of giggles and smiles and excitement when they got goodies at our door. They had improvised costumes as they had heard we were celebrating this American holiday in our apartment. Luckily I had baked LOTS of cookies. The chocolate chunk ones were a real favorite with gingersnaps running a close second.
In China, Tomb Cleaning Day would be the closest in intent to Halloween, similar to All Saints Day in Mexico. The family will come to clean the tomb, offer burned paper money and food, and eat a picnic. So in a way, the students could relate to the Halloween tradition.
Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern