Like many other festivals which have a high commercial value, Halloween has become a very popular occasion for expat and locals alike in Hong Kong. When I was a child, there were barely any costumes, pumpkin and cobweb decorations around this time of the year, but since Ocean Park, the local theme park began its Halloween Bash in 2001, lots of locals are now familiar with 31 October as ‘All Hallows Day’ (萬聖節), sometimes likened to the Hungry Ghost Festival which falls on the 14th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar.
This year, we were invited to a friend’s residence at the southern part of Hong Kong Island to join their Halloween Trick or Treat activity. I bought bagfuls of small packs of sun-dried raisins for the children, with hopes that this will be a suitable alternative for them to enjoy. Unfortunately, when we went around the complex, my treat was turned down a good number of times! How has this custom come into being and why are only sweets given?
‘Guising’ or dressing up in costumes on Halloween was recorded in the 18th to 19th centuries in Britain and Ireland. People may recite pagan verses in exchange for food. The tradition was adapted and fostered when British and Irish migrants settled in America, and became more popular in the mid-20th century which was somehow transformed into its current practice. Nowadays, sweets are given out to children who come for ‘trick-or-treat’ as a way to appease them (although a trick was rarely given), whilst adults take it as an occasion to dress up and go out with friends.
As a parent, I often question some of the existing customs as I try to explain it to Audrey. Halloween will probably be one of those which I find myself cross-tongued as she becomes more inquisitive about ‘why’ it is ‘celebrated’ as I myself ponder its cultural significance.