little: Parties: Throw a Frightful Halloween

Monday, 27 August 2007

This article was originally written for expats living in Beijing, but it can apply anywhere in the world. Halloween celebrations... highly recommended!

Whether or not you celebrate Halloween in your home country, this spooky pagan festival promises the kids a ghoulishly hilarious time. Think it’s impossible to hold a trick or treat without freaking out the Chinese or alienating the neighbours? Not so. Read on...


The origins of Halloween go back 2000 years to the Celts who celebrated the new year on 1 November. The Celts believed that on new year’’s eve —
31 October—the veil between the living and the dead became very thin—and this was when the ghosts of those no longer living returned to earth. This time was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). By the 800s, the Christian church, attempting to replace this pagan festival of the dead with something more church-worthy, designated 1 November All Saint’s Day, also called All Hallows Day. Samhain then became known as All Hallow’s Eve, and—eventually—Halloween.


Today Halloween is traditionally celebrated in the United States, the UK, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and Switzerland.

The act of
“trick or treating” is said to have originated in Celtic Ireland. On All Saint’s Day, people would walk from village to village, begging for soul cakes—square pieces of currant bread. The more cakes they collected, the more prayers they could send to the dead, to expedite their passage through limbo and into heaven.

Nowadays, it is the candy bounty that expedites children to sugar heaven! In order to scare away the possibility of ghostly possession, people—young and old—dress up and decorate their homes in the spookiest way they can imagine, then trundle noisily through the neighbourhood, knocking on doors and asking for candy—a “treat”. If a treat is not forthcoming, the callers can then feel free to play a trick on their victim... so the candy is usually plentiful!


The Jack-o-Lantern story comes from Irish folklore.

A man named Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree, and when he had climbed it, Jack carved a cross into the tree so the devil couldn’t get down. Jack promised to let the devil down if he never tempted him again. When Jack eventually died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his trickery, and was also denied entrance to Hell by the devil. Because he was left in limbo, the devil gave Jack an ember that he kept in a turnip shell.


In later times, the turnip in this story was later replaced by the more plentiful pumpkin. Carving and decorating pumpkins became a matter of course as the festival grew over time.


  • If you decide to have a private pre- or after-party, choose a venue that can accommodate your guests, a table laden with goodies, lots of eerie decorations, and some space for games. Oh—and being able to make it dark is good.
  • Ask pre– and after-party guests to bring along a plate—pot luck is far less stressful and shares the load.
  • For the trick or treating, living in a complex, compound or apartment building set-up will usually mean you have a plethora of neighbours to rope in on the fun. It also lends a measure of safety to your treating, as it means the kids aren’t wandering the streets.
  • Be sure to check with your building’s management if the trick or treating is possible. Advise them you will take full responsibility for keeping the complex clean and free of candy wrappers, and that residents who do not wish to be involved will be left undisturbed. Also tell them what times you are expecting to be treating, and ensure you adhere strictly to these hours.
  • The guest-list depends on your space and your treating set-up. Invitees should be limited to twelve years old and under. Invite all kids in your living complex so no-one feels left out.
  • Send out invitations and/or put a notice in your foyer setting out the meeting place and the procedure for the event. The invitation should state the date, the age of the children permissible, the meeting time and point and the duration of the treating (one hour is usually plenty).
  • Request an RSVP date from participants, reminding them if they do not “register”, they cannot be included at the last minute. Your candy givers will need numbers in advance!
  • Be sure to indicate on your invitation that one parent must accommodate their children and/or friends’ children, even those at the older end of the scale. No children must wander alone in a group without at least one adult. Being the organiser, you do not want this responsibility, so designate it.
  • Remind participants to dress up to the nines!
    • Create a separate flyer to hand to residents, and consider having it translated into Chinese characters or any other language that dominates your complex. This flyer will ask residents if they would like to be involved in your trick or treat evening of fun.
    • Explain briefly what Halloween and trick-or-treating entails (for the benefit of those who have never had exposure to the festival), then ask if they would be willing to hand out candy (at their own expense). If they want to be involved, asked them to contact you and also ask them to place the flyer on their front door between the hours you have nominated for the treating.
    • Assure them that if they do not wish to be involved, they will NOT be disturbed by treaters.
    • Make sure you provide adequate contact details so the resident can get in touch with you to ask questions.
    • It is a good idea to update candy-givers on how many children you are expecting to be treating. This allows the givers to stock up on the right amount of treats.

    Creepy cupcakes, pickled cauliflower brains, brittle bones, moaning marshmallows… a little creative preparation goes a long way...

    • Keep a computerised list of the candy-givers’ apartment numbers—their floor and apartment number is adequate—names are not needed. Print this list to give to treaters.
    • When your guests arrive at the designated meeting point, hand them an apartment list so they can cover floors more easily and do not have to enter the floors of non-participants. Remind them that participating apartments will display a Halloween sign.
    • Divide children into groups of six or less, if possible. Make sure at least one adult accommodates each group. If you wish, hand them a “Rules” paper, which could include the following suggestions:
    • Please ensure you take all candy wrappers with you.
    • Please do not overload the elevators.
    • Remember not to knock on doors unless they display our Halloween notice.
    • Be sure to finish by the designated time.
    • As soon as children are divided into groups, begin sending them off to apartments. This helps enormously if you have large numbers of children. Send them to differing areas so they don’t get clogged in one spot.
    • Try to keep similarly aged children in groups.
    • Remind guests to bring their own bottle of water—treating and candy consumption is very thirsty work!
    Making the effort to host a Halloween trick-or-treat in Beijing is truly one of the most worthwhile experiences you can give your child. So many people love the involvement, and the party atmosphere is totally engaging and enormous fun. A word of warning—the kids will be on a high for hours and it won’t necessarily be from the candy! 

    Happy Halloween!

    Don't miss Double Double Toil and Trouble for a spookily great Halloween party, complete with decorations, games and recipes. For easy peasy costumes, see Hocus Pocus Easy Steps to Creepy Costumes.

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