Halloween reinterpretation

It is Halloween again! Here in Europe the shops are decorated with spider webs and spooky witches and ghosts, and the candy shops are especially colorful around this time of year! The Halloween celebration takes places during the transitional period between Autumn and Winter, and it is intended to guide the way with lights for the deceased. The oriental world has a similar event, but it is between Winter and Spring, another point where the Yin and Yang are not in balance, although the Eastern ghost day has much fewer activities than the west, and is certainly less entertaining. The subject of “death” is not mentioned lightly, but the dressing up trend has certainly received a warm welcome, even though the “bloody” makeups are much less seen.

Something that is rather intriguing about the Halloween however, lies in the interpretations of some of the symbolic imagines. Today let is discuss three of them: pumpkin, spider, and bat. Because these “spooky” icons in the eastern world would mean something totally different, even the opposite.

My take on Halloween, Fiona Sheng


The pumpkins are considered nutritious foods, I guess this point is rather shared in the world, although more articles will mention the medicinal use of pumpkins if you search in Chinese. I doubt it that many Chinese are comfortable with making Jack-o’-Lanterns, playing with food sounds rather wasteful.

Artistically, pumpkins are seen as fruits with wonderful meanings. They are golden red in color, and they are large and round, with many seeds inside. Above it all, they provide a beautiful source of food, what a magnificent combination! Warm colors like the pumpkin are often associated with wealth and harvest, when surrounded by these colors one can feel empowered, as if the world of luck is rushing in. The round fruits are always seen to suggest union, and nothing beats the union of a family. Seeds would always be linked with large and happy families with lots of children. It is widely accepted that the larger families were usually the more resourceful ones, the ones with the most potential to be prosperous.

So perhaps even if the eastern world would make pumpkins into lanterns, no ghosts would really be scared away anyway.

two jack o lanterns


The spiders are often accompanied by other dark creatures in the western world, they are seen as the children of the dark side. In the east however, the spiders are quite the symbols of great fortune and happiness!

An urban legend once told of a mother who was missing her traveling son terribly, until one day she looked down and on her dress she saw a spider crawling, and she knew that her son would return shortly. And sure enough, her son returned safe and sound within a few days! From then on, spiders and good fortune became connected, and people believe that when they see spiders dangling from a thin thread, then something wonderful is about to happen. The spiders also received a name “mother of fortune” (喜母). Therefore in paintings the most commonly described spiders would be dangling from somewhere high, suggesting that the good fortune is coming from the sky.

spider web


The bats often come together with the spiders in the western stories, especially in the creepy ones. But their cultural interpretation in the east is vastly different! The bats in Chinese are called “fu”, which sounds the same as happiness, so these little creatures became the spokesmen of happiness, particularly since the Ming and Qing Dynasties these robust and rather mysterious creatures were categorised as one of the auspicious animals, and their images appeared in all kinds of containers as decorations, such as the vases in the image below. Sometimes the bats appear red in certain paintings, enhancing their meaning of bringers of good fortune.

Vase with bat patterns

We have discussed the symbolism in the past, but there are so many that we have not talked about yet. So stay tuned and Happy Halloween! Are you going to see Halloween with a different perspective this year?

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2 thoughts on “Halloween reinterpretation”

  1. I had no idea that spiders and bats were considered good creatures in China! It’s the complete opposite here where they are feared and see them as evil things. I like all living things but have feared spiders sometimes because of some of their venomous and painful bites. Daddy long leg spiders aren’t fear as much here because their fangs are so small even if you were bitten by them no one would feel it.

    1. Yeah there are quite some differences in the insects, but still, people will not like having spiders or bats anywhere near them in their daily lives, no matter where they are 🙂 In paintings it is a different story!

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