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Halloween in Beijing: Pumpkins, pirates, and ... a man in a dark suit

Yes, Virginia, there is Halloween in Beijing. No one dares to toss toilet paper over the gingko trees or egg the local Sichuan restaurant, but a group of American expatriates held a party and trick or treat – and most of the guests were Chinese, including a man in a dark suit.

By Guest Blogger / October 29, 2012

Shoppers walk past a Halloween display inside Raffles City Mall in Beijing.

Courtesy of Debra Bruno



The leaves are starting to fall from the trees in Beijing, but there are no crunchy piles for children to jump in. In China, leaves are immediately swept up by the legions of workers who attack them with ragged-edge straw brooms that look ready for a Halloween witch.

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Debra Bruno is a Beijing-based freelance journalist and the mother of two children: 28-year-old Daniel and 25-year-old Joanna, both of whom also happen to live in China. She loves cooking, her 15-year-old cat (whom she brought to China), and travel. She blogs about it all at Not by Occident.

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But daily life in China’s capital city is not especially Halloween friendly, even though you’ll see occasional decorations. In a local mall, pumpkin decals cover the sliding glass doors under the heading, “Amazing Halloween.” Inside the mall is a large display with plastic pumpkins and a fake-looking haunted house façade. Meanwhile, the expat-friendly restaurants are advertising Halloween parties for children and teenagers.

But try to find some candy corn in this town. The Chinese don’t quite get our western obsession with sweets. “Fruit is Not. A. Dessert,” my daughter’s friend Emily says drily. What I wouldn’t give for those little “fun” sized boxes of malted milk balls. One mother plaintively asked on one listserv: “I am looking for a bakery that can make Halloween cupcakes and treats for my child’s school…Also, is there a store that sells bags of Halloween candy?” So far, no one has responded to her. Another friend has spent the last week or so hunting for a costume for her two-year-old. “I may just have to paint whiskers on his face and let him wear kitty ears,” she says with a sigh.

Our expat-heavy apartment complex celebrated Halloween in our own way. It took place on the Saturday before Halloween, Saturday being a more-convenient time than the middle of the week, in the same way many Americans push their Thanksgiving celebrations to the weekend after the fourth Thursday to accommodate schools and work schedules.

Where we live, called Seasons Park, one mother took on the thankless task of organizing the Halloween party. After she ran the party last year, the management suggested that one party was enough and she should forgo this year’s gathering. They claimed the festivities were “not harmonious,” an irony not lost on all of us who had lived through a week of Chinese new year fireworks set off outside our bedroom windows starting at 6:30 a.m

This mother’s reaction was to promptly plan this year’s event. Interestingly, the e-mail she sent out to our apartment complex got positive responses from about 50 Chinese families and only 15 western ones.  Part of the advertising problem is that posters she put up inside the complex’s 24 or so apartment towers are promptly removed, so word got out by listserv, e-mail, and conversation.


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