Halloween Then and Now in a Bicultural Family by Bicultural Mama

I don’t go out of my way to dress up for Halloween. It’s not that I despise this holiday, it’s just that in the Chinese-American household I grew up in, Halloween was never that big of a deal compared to my non-Chinese friends. Halloween does not exist in China. For many people there, it’s odd that American kids celebrate scary ghosts, demons, and mummies when the only spirits families are supposed to honor are those of ancestors.Bicultural Mama daughter as Kai-Lan of "Ni Hao Kai-Lan"

Though the Halloween prep in our family was more subdued than those of my classmates’, my siblings and I did go trick-or-treating. We were kids after all, so we desired candy just like everyone else. We “dressed up” by putting on something we would not normally wear, therefore it was a costume. Wear a cowboy hat (“You’re a cowgirl”) or a plastic mask (Woody Woodpecker or Porky Pig). These options rotated between my sister, brother, and me over the years. The costume process was simple, convenient, and met the requirements to obtain candy when we rang doorbells.

I recall one extra special Halloween when my elementary school announced a Halloween parade. My dad rallied and made me a costume – not just any costume, but one that was trendy — a Rubik’s Cube. He cut arm and eye holes out of a large box and carefully glued construction paper to each side. He drew lines with a black marker to represent the puzzle’s signature square blocks. On the day of the parade I could barely see out of my costume’s eye holes, but managed to march with my class in the school’s gymnasium just fine. The pride I felt that day is something I still remember more than three decades later.

Today Halloween seems so much more promoted and commercialized. Nick Jr. is featuring Halloween episodes during the entire month of October. Back when I was a kid, the only themed-cartoon available was “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Parents nowadays plan their kids’ costumes months in advance and will easily spend $50 or more for the perfect one-time-wear outfit. Multiple kids’ parades abound to offer parents a chance to display their children’s costumes.

I try to keep things balanced when it comes to my daughter and Halloween. My daughter thinks of her own costume ideas, picks pumpkins, and goes trick-or-treating. I just don’t cover our house in Halloween décor. Some of this may be due to how I grew up, but it could also just be that I have a more minimalist decorating style.

Daughter as Kai-Lan from Nick Jr. series Ni Hao Kai-LanMy daughter, who loved the cartoon series Ni Hao Kai-Lan (featuring a Chinese girl), dressed up as Kai-Lan last year. She wore a traditional red Chinese children’s outfit given to her from her aunt in Shanghai. She marched in the library and school costume parades. I appreciated that her Halloween outfit was a nod to her bicultural heritage.

This year my daughter started taking dance classes so she wants to be Angelina Ballerina. We have that costume hanging in her closet thanks to a friend who donated her daughter’s outgrown costume. With its built-in tutu and tiara, I have to admit the costume is pretty darn cute.

As my daughter gets older, I’m sure Halloween will become even more important to her. Perhaps she will ask me to decorate the house, and if that’s what makes her happy, I’m sure I’ll agree.

Bicultural Mama, founded by Maria who is a first generation Chinese-American, is a blog that celebrates the best of both worlds. Maria and her “all-American” husband are raising their daughter on Long Island.


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