Halloween isn’t a traditional Taiwanese holiday. So why do general stores around the island stock up on costumes, candy, and items that clearly have little use outside of Halloween (fake severed limbs, rubber eyeballs and more) in October?
The answer? Because Kids demand it!
Which is kind of funny, because 25 years ago the only kids in Taiwan who really knew about Halloween were those who’d spent time in western countries or had expat English teachers who didn’t see any harm in getting their cram-school classes jacked up on sugar every October 31st.
These days, most kids in Taiwan look forward to October 31st, though they call it Wànshèngjié (萬聖節 – or million spirits festival). Wànshèngjié in Taiwan isn’t quite the cultural phenomenon of Halloween in America, but it is a big enough deal to make hastily assembled displays complete with tons of candy and a few rubber eyeballs a common sight in some urban supermarkets.
The general idea of Wànshèngjié is the same as Western Halloween. Kids dress in scary costumes, go to parties, are allowed to behave slightly more naughty than usual and, of course, eat way too much candy. The holiday isn’t quite common enough to make trick-or-treating feasible, so activities are usually centered around schools and community centers with designated spooky activities and tons of candy.
Halloween remains popular among expats, of course, and no expat bar worth its salt will let the evening pass without throwing some sort of mock-horror themed party in which a larger than usual amount of mixed drinks featuring tomato juice will be sold.
But outside of kids and expats, October 31st is just another day to most people in Taiwan, which is probably just as well. Taiwan has no shortage of holidays based on acknowledging death and the afterlife, including the Hungry Ghost Festival (in which the ghosts of the dead roam the earth to be placated by the living) and Qing Ming Jie, or tomb sweeping day (where families go to their ancestral tombs, both to clean them out and to show reverence to their ancestors). (Read more: Getting the Most from Ghost Month in Taiwan)
So candy for kids and tomato-juice based cocktails for grownups aside, Halloween is sort of redundant in Taiwan, which, after all, boasts several fairly sophisticated holidays acknowledging that life is transitory and the barrier between this world and the next is perilously thin.
As far as festivals specifically designed to scare the living hell out of participants, it’d be pretty hard for typical Halloween antics (folks in costume behaving in a faux menacing fashion) to scare anyone who’s attended Taiwan’s famous Beehive Bottle-rocket Festival, where participants are put in literal danger of immolation. (Read more: Ten Festivals Worth Planning your Taiwan Holiday around (Part one))
In Taipei for Halloween and looking for something to do? Want to attend next year’s Beehive Bottle-rocket Festival? Send MyTaiwanTour your travel interests, and we’ll customize your tour!
Read more: Christmas in Taiwan