Spooked governments ban costumes: Where not to celebrate Halloween

While Halloween's popularity outside the United States continues to grow, celebrating the event remains riskier in some places than others. And don't even think about trick-or-treating in Uzbekistan.

Kim Kyung-hoon/Reuters
A man applies make-up for a Halloween party in a public toilet in Beijing on Friday.

If Halloween means one thing more than any other, it is costumes.

Sure, candy comes in a close second, but a Halloween without costumes is nigh impossible. Across the world, people of all ages are ready to get decked out as their favorite monster, hero, or movie star tonight, and celebrate with parties, parades, and trick or treating.

But there are a few places around the world that are not quite so gung-ho for Halloween. Indeed, in some places, they've done the unthinkable: They've banned costumes.

Be it out of safety concerns or good old-fashioned authoritarianism, these three locales are ones where you might think twice before setting out to trick-or-treat.

1. Vendargues, France

Actually, Vendargues, a small village in the south, hasn't banned all costumes, just one particular type: clowns.

But this isn't your run-of-the-mill coulrophobia. It's a response to a rash of clown-based assaults and harassment all across the country. France 24 reports that people dressed in clownish regalia have been threatening – and in some cases attacking – passersby over the past month.

Using fake weapons these "clowns" have been "mostly spotted outside schools, but also on public roads, in bushes, in a square.

"Their targets are often young children or teenagers, but also adults," a police source in northern France told AFP.

The phenomenon doesn't appear to be organized, but it's also not simply a matter of the season; France 24 writes that the "American fear-fest Halloween has yet to take hold" in France. Rather it seems to be a viral phenomenon – fed by YouTube users (and possibly the latest season of American Horror Story, which features Twisty, a disturbing killer clown) – where mischief makers are simply looking to provoke moments of fright.

But some incidents have included actual violence, including one pedestrian in the southern city of Montpellier, France, being beaten by a clown wielding an "iron bar." So the response of Vendargues officials is not unreasonable.

The law was passed to “avoid any disruption ... by evil clowns,” a representative from the mayor’s office told AFP.

“It’s about protecting children by preventing any ill-intentioned clowns from mixing with residents.”

The ban will last through November. France 24 notes that any clown seeking to dress up for “fairs or other public festivities” will have to seek express permission from officials.

2. Beijing, China

While there are no clowns stalking the streets of Beijing (at least that we are aware of), the police there appear to be just as concerned about "public disturbances": They have warned users of the city's metro station not to wear costumes of any kind. The BBC reports:

The state-run Beijing News said wearing fancy dress or scary make-up on the underground rail network could cause "panic".

"Public transport police point out, please do not wear strange outfits in subway stations or in train carriages, which could easily cause a crowd to gather and create trouble," it said.

The paper said police had the power to arrest those who "upset order".

Banned looks include "Scream" and skull masks and zombie face paint, NBC News reports. 

Though the Chinese government is never fond of those who "upset order," this ban is also a matter of diplomatic security. Beijing hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next week, so police are already on alert. As one user of the Chinese microblogging site Weibo noted: “APEC is coming, police are busy checking people’s ID and you come to the subway dressing like ghost? ... There is no doubt they will arrest you.”

3. Anywhere in Uzbekistan

Admittedly, it's hard to imagine Halloween being a big holiday in Uzbekistan. Tucked away among the various other "Stans" that once made up a large part of the USSR and ruled by its authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan has lots of cotton, natural gas, and little else that would cause it to pop up on the radar of the average Westerner.

But Halloween is apparently of particular concern to Mr. Karimov's government, which banned the holiday in 2011. Independent Uzbek news site Uznews.com reports that every Oct. 31, "the police are on high alert for any public Halloween celebrations and an establishment can be shut down on a mere suspicion of celebrating on an ideologically wrong holiday."

Potrebitel.Uz, a popular Facebook group with 21 thousand members, also has been actively discussing last year’s attempts to celebrate the holiday, which ended in police stations when someone asked if there were any clubs planning to organize Halloween specials.
Diana Sim, a group member, said that her friends’ son ended up being held at the internal affairs department after he was detained on the street for wearing a costume. His parents had to bail him out.
Another user, Nadezhda Uxova says that her boyfriend was also detained by the internal affairs when he was picked up for wearing a mask.

Uznews notes that Halloween isn't the only holiday to earn the government's ire: Valentine's Day is also a no-no, and New Year's Eve and graduation parties are discouraged.

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