An Insider's Guide to Celebrating Halloween in China

halloween china style
••• Chinese signage for Halloween decorations in the local Shanghai Carrefour. Photo by Sara Naumann.

Halloween in China - An Introduction

Halloween is essentially a Western holiday and has a long history, originally celebrated by the Celts to commemorate the dead. Halloween as we know it in the United States is a holiday for fun and parties, getting dressed up in costumes, trick-or-treating and decorating pumpkins. Is this something they do in China?

Halloween in China

Unlike Christmas where the non-religious traditions have crossed the Pacific, Halloween is really a non-event for Chinese local people unless they have some connection to the expatriate population.

Certainly, you'll see now sign of Halloween outside major cities.

If you happen to be in big cities with large expatriate communities such as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, you might see pumpkins or squash decorating shop-fronts and grocery stores selling Western products. If you live in one of these cities, you might stock some candy but you won't find hoards of Chinese children knocking on doors for treats. Only if you live in a compound with many expat kids or kids who go to expat schools, will you have trick-or-treaters.

How Adults Celebrate Halloween in China

Halloween is a great gimmick and lots of bars, pubs and restaurants will use Halloween as a theme night. If you're visiting China during Halloween, you'll probably only find these parties in larger cities that have more expats living in them such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. You can check local expat magazines for parties and hit the bar scene for a spooky night out if you're in the mood.

How to Celebrate Halloween in China - Kids

Unfortunately, only the expat / international schools will likely be doing anything Halloween-related so if you're just visiting China with your kids during Halloween there will not be public parties or trick-or-treating for them. Find a fun kids' activity for them that day to help them forget about Halloween and the candy they're missing!

Halloween Costumes

Now here's the funny thing, China happens to be a great place to organize your Halloween costume. So if you're a big Halloween party-goer, you might consider this if you're going to be in can do some organization in advance. The fabric markets are a great place to take a costume idea and make it come to life - tailor made. Here are some of the great outfits I've had made for not much money:

  • 70s Leisure Suit (light blue polyester, very nice)
  • Bavarian dirndl (for Little Red Riding Hood theme)
  • Ring Wraith black cloaks (from The Lord of the Rings)
  • WW2 US Marine combat outfit

The thing to do is to find a relatively simple outfit online (although the dirndl was complicated!) and print out photos. Then go to the market and find the right fabric. After you've got all the fabric you need, shop it around to different tailors in the market until you find someone who is willing to do it for a price you'll accept. Note, you'll need at least 3 days to a week to get something tailor made.