After much teasing and deliberation…I shall write a post on Halloween. No thanks to my Mother.
So Monday was Halloween and, like my Mom, I was pretty sure that my school had no intention of celebrating it When no plans to celebrate this holiday that dominates the North-Western hemisphere of the globe were made by Friday afternoon, Molly and I were ready to spend our weekend doing approximately nothing. But then the evening rolled around and a teacher started asking us about Halloween.
It was around this time that I realized how ridiculous Halloween actually is to explain. “Yes, well, we dress up in costumes and go to stranger’s houses, only at night, mind you, and demand candy. And people decorate their houses with macabre things like tombstones and cobwebs and dead people, what have you….We decorate pumpkins too. And really, I think the whole spiel is about welcoming the dead back to earth or scaring them away from earth…or it’s some celebration concerning the dead, but I’m not quite sure about that. It’s really just a commercial holiday.” She must have thought I was crazy, or the entire western world was…
Then she asked me for ideas that the school could use to celebrate Halloween. Ingeniously I suggested bobbing for apples, never mind that one can drown in less than four inches of water and this activity called for two-year-olds to stick their heads in buckets of water to search for fruit. The next activity I explained was carving pumpkins. Yes, this would mean large knives in the proximity of our ever curious three-year-olds…no big deal. After she left, I realized just how odd this holiday must sound. It’s a free-for-all to maim or place in danger the greatest amount of people, surely.
Then there was minor panic. Should I dress up? Should I put together something to explain Halloween to my classes? Should I hand out candy? I opted to make a short power point that explained Halloween activities and typical costumes to the kids (aside: I translated my script so that the teachers could explain the event to the students. One of my sentences was: During Halloween, you see scary things! Google Translate = During Halloween, you see terrible things. I thought it was a hilarious translation, if only a minor switch).
However, I decided to not dress up. Mistake! Monday morning had kids pouring in the door with masks, costumes, pumpkins, and bags of candy (how did they do it? the teachers texted all parents that friday night. this would never work in the United States. we plan field trips out months in advance and kids still forget their sack lunches). So between 8:40 and 9:00 in the morning is my allotted breakfast time. Using Molly’s help, we crafted a cat costume. Molly had to go to a different school Monday morning, but she decided she’s get into some kind of DIY costume when she got back. The kids loved it. They kept calling me laoshi mao (teacher cat) and I’m pretty sure it’ll replace my former name (Monkey).
Throughout the day, the teachers started carving the pumpkins and placed them around the school. They even put candles in some and hung them from the trees outside of the school and from the doors at the front entrance. A little dangerous, perhaps, but pretty cool. They decorated the entrance with spiderwebs made of green and red string and pictures of pumpkins and bats.
And then 4:00 rolled around, the time when I have one class left in the day and I’m ready to just relax and be away from those crazy miniature humans. Molly had returned from her school and done makeup as a skeleton and was going with me to my last few classes when another teacher found us in the hallways.
At 4:20 students would come to our dorm room and trick-or-treat. She gave us a bucket of candy (aside: kids here don’t go for chocolate or super sweet or super sour candy. They like licorice, milk candy, or cough drop tasting things. I don’t get it…). She also asked us to go to each classroom at 4:40 and paint some teacher’s faces. And then at 5:20 she wanted us to hand out candy in the courtyard as the kids walked back to their parents, who wait at the school gate.
Molly and I were hesitant, but we went back to our dorm, skipping my last class. We definitely did not have the supplies to paint the teachers with makeshift costumes. We did our makeup with an almost gone stick of eyeliner and some white and pink eyeshadow. Furthermore, sharing makeup and brushes was a bad, bad idea as pink eye spreads in preschools the way mosquitoes hang out in our laundry room (refer to our laundry video). But we didn’t want to say no (because, culturally, it’s basically impossible to say no in China. You either say yes to a question or say no several times until the persistent interrogator will require you to say yes). Also, explaining health concerns would have been useless (they do care about health here, but they also handle raw meat with bare hands and put it in open grocery bags and set it on car floors. And, come on, toilet paper isn’t a common commodity in restrooms).
So we went to go wait in our room with our bucket of eugh candy. The first group came and knocked and the teacher, thoroughly confused, tried to give us candy. It was a confusing few minutes of us handing the kids candy, the kids handing the teacher candy, and the teacher handing us candy. Eventually, satisfied, that group left and we closed our door to wait for the next group. We heard them whispering outside of our door before they knock. “Okay, say ‘Happy Holidays’. ‘Happy Holidays!’”. Then they knocked and there was another intense two minutes of candy swapping as Molly and I pointedly responded: “Happy Halloween” to everyone that said “Happy Holidays”.
When we finally had traded candy with all classes it was time to paint faces. Getting creative, we ended up with a few butterfly teachers, a clown, a doll with a beard (she asked for the beard…we weren’t going to do it because it made no sense…but it’s Halloween, so what do you do), a few flowers, and another cat and skeleton.
The teachers asked for some Halloween music to play on the loudspeakers for sending to the kids home. But there are very few traditional Halloween songs. And of the great Halloween songs that our culture has embraced (Monster Mash, Thriller, Don’t Fear the Reaper, some Metallica songs probably), I have even fewer in my music collection. So I gave them “This Is Halloween” from Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas (the original version and the Panic! At The Disco version), a modern arrangement of Palladio (the music from the ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ commercial), and Protectors of the Earth (a classical piece that sounds like the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack mixed with Lord of the Rings). They blasted it as we helped children back to their parents and handed out candy. All in all, it was a very odd Halloween celebration, but it was fun. At the end, we went out to celebrate by eating at KFC (I know, I know…but it’s what you do here…) (also, they call popcorn chicken ‘boom chicken’).
The teachers don’t celebrate Halloween often at the school, the last time they did was a few years ago, but they hope to do it every year as they “very liked” it. One of them called it an “international” celebration (she had just learned that word and was using it constantly). It was definitely fun, definitely international, and I have to say that I very liked it too.