SCAD Bee Overseas: How to Celebrate Halloween While Studying Abroad

Haunted Lacoste images courtesy of Cedric Maros.

One of the best things about studying abroad is embracing a completely different culture. But when you’re away from family and friends during a holiday as American as Halloween, it’s not uncommon for a little homesickness to creep in. The good news is that both SCAD study abroad experiences in Lacoste and Hong Kong offer local traditions for celebrating Halloween, even if the holiday isn’t as big as it is back in the States.  So if you’re a SCAD bee overseas this October, don’t worry about missing out on jack-o-lanterns and spooky skeletons. Instead, try mixing in these French and Hong Kong tricks with your favorite American treats for a melting pot of Halloween fun. Who knows, you may even bring the best of these exotic traditions back to your home turf next Halloween.

Lacoste, France

Haunted Lacoste ShopSCAD.

Don’t let Lacoste’s rural charm fool you; the ominous chateau towering over the village and acres of eerie, isolated forest give this ghost town excellent scare potential. Believe it or not, France is no stranger to the spookiest day of the year. It’s actually rumored to be one of the first countries to celebrate Halloween alongside Britain and Ireland. This European trio once had a rich Celtic population who founded a pagan harvest festival called, “All Hallows Eve” that’s said to be the estranged grandfather of Halloween.  According to legend – and this website – “All Hallows Eve” has a pretty interesting backstory: “It was born in Ireland with the legend of Jack O’Lantern, a greedy drunkard who cheated the Devil twice. After his death, his soul could not enter Heaven or Hell, but he convinced the Devil to give him an ember, which he put in a hollowed out turnip to provide light for himself in his everlasting wandering.”

Over time though Halloween lost its luster in Europe and made its way across the pond to the United States where it exploded into the commercialized, spine-chilling, pumpkin-decorating, candy-hoarding celebration we all know and love.

Paris initially saw the comeback of Halloween in 1982 when the American Dream restaurant opened and began promoting ghoulish traditions. Because of the big American influence on modern-day Halloween, French children and teenagers in big cities like Paris and Nice typically celebrate a lot of the same customs we do: wearing scary/lewd costumes, throwing parties, decorating houses and trick-or-treating – which was once limited to stores but have since expanded to neighborhoods.

Haunted Lacoste Library.

Of course, there are those French citizens who look down on celebrating an American holiday, but Halloween is still growing ever more popular in cities. The more traditional European holiday that goes arm-and-arm with Halloween is All Saints Day on Nov. 1st. France has been celebrating this holiday for centuries and is typically spent honoring dead Saints. Schools and businesses are usually closed and people partake in religious ceremonies and decorate tombstones in graveyards with flowers and mementos. On the following day, the French celebrate All Souls Day which is to commemorate dead loved ones, who have “not yet reached heaven.”

SCAD Lacoste’s fall quarter Halloween celebration is typically the biggest event hosted by SCAD in Lacoste of the year. Since Halloween is still a moderately new tradition in smaller French villages, Lacoste’s celebration usually draws around 400 people from SCAD and surrounding towns. Students and staff always dress up and every year students team up to design a haunted house in one of the SCAD buildings. In addition, students can volunteer to help run Halloween events for local kiddies like face-painting and pumpkin carving.

Hong Kong  

Hong Kong Yu Lan festivities. Image courtesy of www.chinesetimesschool.com.

Even though I’ve personally never visited Hong Kong, other SCAD students who have studied abroad there assure me that this Asian cultural hub isn’t afraid to get spooky when autumn rolls around. In fact, Hong Kong is so keen on all things scary that their ghoulish festivities start at the end of August! On the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, a fabulously frightful festival called Yu Lan or “Festival of the Hungry Ghost” kicks off the fall season.  According to South China Morning Post, Yu Lan marks a special time in parts of Asia when ghosts roam the earth for the entire month: “Accounts vary but it’s generally believed that during the ghost month, the gates of hell open and restless spirits emerge to haunt the living. During this time, the gates of heaven are also said to be unbolted, allowing benign spirits to visit their families for feasting and entertainment.”  

Depending on the culture, Yu Lan can be traced back 2,000 to Taoism origins while Buddhists tend to associate the celebration with the chief disciple of Buddha. Regardless of how it started though, this is a time for families to both honor their departed ancestors and subdue wicked spirits walking among them. The most popular everyday ritual is burning paper to pay homage to the spirits while other offerings to the dead include candles, incense, fruits, meat and pastries laid outside of residential communities. Some of the superstitions may seem strange, but you may as well immerse yourself in the rich Eastern culture while you’re there.  For example, it’s considered bad luck during Yu Lan to: swim, pee on a tree, leaving laundry outside, take photos at night, leave doors open at night and get married among other things. On the other hand, to the keep the demons at bay one can simply: leave rock salt outside the front door, keep lights burning in and out of the house and visit temples and churches to pray for the dead.

The Festival of Hungry Ghosts” has been maintained by Hong Kong’s Chiu Chow community for over a century. Today, locals celebrate Yu Lan with a variety of entertainment such as Chinese operas in pop-up theatres, ghost walking tours and plenty of ghost festivals open to the public.

Hong Kong also has large celebrations for Halloween and most of the area’s ghostly festivities are at large gatherings like street festivals, parades and parties.  Ocean Park is said to host one of the biggest Halloween celebrations in Asia with over 1,000 staff members and performers pitching in. During the day the park lights up as pumpkin land for little kids while at night the kids-at-heart adults can enjoy a selection of haunted houses and Halloween bashes. Hong Kong Disneyland also plays a huge part in encouraging Halloween festivities by celebrating American traditions with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and the whole gang partying right along with you.

SCAD Hong Kong also organizes some fun on-campus events for students on Halloween. In years past, they’ve hosted costume contests and soirées with adorably spooky refreshments.  Leave it to SCAD students to go all out when designing the most intricate and memorable costumes imaginable!

So no matter which campus you choose to study abroad at during the fall, rest assured there will be classic and comfortable as well as bold and exciting Halloween traditions waiting for you.  

Halloween in France Features Image courtesy of tailsofwonder.com.