Halloween is one of the oldest holidays celebrated by people from different countries all over the world. In most western countries like US and Canada, carved pumpkins and corn stalks sprawled all over the suburbs, trick-or-treating, and costume depicting scary creatures are staple practices during the festival. However, Asians celebrate Halloween in a slightly different way.
Chinese have their own way of celebrating the Halloween or Teng Chieh in their local dialect. People offer water and food, and light lanterns to guide the spirits of their deceased loved ones as they traverse the land of the living on Halloween night. Moreover, pilgrims visiting Buddhist temples make paper boats that symbolize the spirits of the dead. The purpose of this custom is twofold: as a remembrance of the spirits of the dead and in order to free the spirits of the restless souls so that they may go peacefully to heaven. These restless souls or pretas are spirits and reincarnated scary creatures of those who died tragically, which are believed to cause trouble among the living. Having these scary creatures around is considered bad luck by Chinese people. This is why monks are called to chant verses and incantations to free these souls from bondage.
In the same manner, people from Hong Kong also celebrate the Halloween festival to guide the spirits back to their world. In their culture, spirits are believed to roam the earth on the day before November 1. They burn pictures of fruits or money believing that these images would reach the spirit world and bring comfort to the ghosts. Yue Lan or Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is a time for people to honor the spirit of the dead.
Japanese celebrate their own version of Halloween which they call Obon Festival. During this time of the year, special dishes are prepared, bright red lanterns are hung in every house and lanterns are placed afloat on rivers and boats. Lights are lit to show the spirits where their families might be found. Japanese families clean memorial stones for they believe that their deceased ancestors will go back to their birthplaces. Unlike in other countries, the Obon Festival/Halloween is celebrated during July/August.
Koreans commemorate the Halloween or Chusok during the month of August. Families visit the tombs and mausoleums and offer food, drink and flowers to show respect to their dead ancestors.
Halloween Practices and Asian Values
In all these practices, we see that Halloween is usually spent to honor and commemorate the spirits of deceased relatives and loved ones. These spirits are not commonly depicted as scary creatures or creatures of the night out to get a piece of the living. Instead, these souls are portrayed by their tradition as spirits who long to be with their families. Hence, we can say that the Asian’s closely knit family orientation is greatly seen even on Halloween.
Culture is enriched by practices and holidays like Halloween. No matter from which vantage point you look at it, whether it’s from a European or an Asian perspective, Halloween will always be one holiday to look forward to anywhere around the world.
For more info: Scary Creatures