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While it’s not high up on the list of holidays in China, Halloween is one of my favorites, and it is gaining popularity in the Middle Kingdom. This is especially true among the younger generation of Chinese, who learn about the holiday from their foreign English teachers or American movies and take an interest in the strange customs. Let’s learn a little bit of Chinese vocabulary for the holiday, starting with the name.
The Chinese name for Halloween (万圣节 – wàn shèng jié) literally translates to “10,000 Saints Festival,” which makes one think that China got October 31st confused with November 1st, which is All Saints Day. Close enough, though.
Halloween is believed to have originated from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. During this festival, people thought that the door to the great beyond opened just wide enough for the spirits of the dead to return.
While some spirits were welcomed (and even given a spot at the dinner table), others were thought to be evil. Thus, people began to wear costumes (服装 – fú zhuāng) to disguise themselves from the spirits. Leading up to the festival, boys would go door-to-door collecting food or fuel for the feast. The modern-day custom of trick-or-treating (不給糖，就搗蛋 – bù gěi táng, jiù dǎo dàn) – where children knock on doors in their neighborhood in search of candy and other treats – must have evolved from this.
Young children dress up as their favorite cartoon (卡通 – kǎ tōng) characters, superheroes (超级英雄 – chāo jí yīng xióng), or something scary, such as a vampire (吸血鬼 – xī xuè guǐ), zombie (僵尸 – jiāng shī), or werewolf (狼人 – láng rén). College students, meanwhile, love to party on Halloween. Back in my day, we’d even go out three or four nights in costume to various house parties or bars to celebrate. Guys try to be funny (好笑 – hǎo xiào), while girls shoot for sexy (性感 – xìng gǎn) with their costumes.
A zombie apocalypse takes over Beijing!
Adults can even join in on the fun as well. Plenty of people like to have a house party (家庭聚会 – jiā tíng jù huì) for Halloween, and many bars encourage patrons to come in costume. It’s an excuse to dress up and act like a child again – who wouldn’t enjoy that?
Another Halloween tradition is carving a pumpkin and placing a candle inside. This is known as a Jack-o-Lantern in English, and a “pumpkin light” (南瓜灯 – nán guā dēng) in Chinese. People also like to visit a haunted house (鬼屋 – guǐ wū), some of which can be downright terrifying. A fun Halloween game you can play is bobbing for apples (咬苹果游戏 – yǎo píng guǒ yóu xì). In this game, you dunk your head into a bucket of water and try to grab an apple using only your teeth.
Of course, no Halloween would be complete without plenty of scary movies (恐怖电影 – kǒng bù diàn yǐng), such as: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and so on. A great way to celebrate Halloween and practice your Chinese listening/reading skills at the same time is watching a Chinese horror flick. Check out this post we have about 5 Chinese horror films and add one to your list this month! Here’s a trailer for one of them that’ll freak you out:
It seems as if Halloween is becoming more and more popular in China with each passing year. From school parties, to family-friendly activities, and of course, plenty of parties and concerts to attend, it really seems to be catching on. However you plan to spend the holiday, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Halloween (万圣节快乐 – wàn shèng jié kuài lè)!
Practice your Chinese by answering these questions about Halloween:
1. 你喜欢万圣节吗? 为什么? – nǐ xǐ huan wàn shèng jié ma? wèi shén me
Do you like Halloween? Why?
2. 你打算怎么过万圣节 – nǐ dǎ suàn zěn me guò wàn shèng jié
How do you plan to spend Halloween?
3. 你喜欢看恐怖电影吗? 你有最喜欢的吗? – nǐ xǐ huan kàn kǒng bù diàn yǐng ma? nǐ yǒu zuì xǐ huan de ma
Do you like to watch horror movies? Do you have a favorite?
4. 你要打扮成什么? – nǐ yào dǎ bàn chéng shén me
What are you going to dress up as?