In Malaysia, children have fun during Halloween by dressing up in costumes – it's not about horror.
YOU can see that Princess Elsa is really a brunette as the ends of her hair are poking out from beneath a blonde wig.
She calls out into the distance in Mandarin, and a small barefoot boy appears in a skeleton costume. His face is covered in pasty white makeup, although it is slowly melting away in this humid air.
Spiderman has taken off his mask for a five-minute breather from scampering around, and is now gulping down a glass of green wiggly worms (home-brewed cendol).
It’s Halloween with a Malaysian twist, and the Tan household has got it all planned out – there’s a bubbling pumpkin soup in a crock pot and a “bonfire” out front in the form of a BBQ pit. The house is decorated with paper jack-o’-lanterns, inflatable spiders and there’s Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing in the background.
In Western culture, Halloween revolves around the theme of using “humour and ridicule to confront the power of death”.
For Malaysians, Halloween is more a dress-up party than a horror fest.Quantity surveyor Ee Len Tan and her husband used to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve with their friends but it is now more of an annual family affair.
“My husband studied in the United States so he was really familiar with the Halloween culture there. For as long as I can remember, we’ve been dressing up every Halloween just for fun and we’d have special ‘spooky’ meet-ups with our friends. It was only last year that we decided to invite our cousins and their children for a Halloween party at home,” says Tan, 30.
Her cousin, brand manager Sue Kwan brought along an angel and a wizard who are her children Le-Ann, 10 and Ee-Thern Wei, nine.
“It is timely that Ee Len invited us for the party. My children were asking about Halloween because of the scary decor in the malls. So last year, they finally got to experience the ‘real’ thing,” says Sue, 38.
“We made use of whatever props we could find: angel wings for my daughter and a wizard’s hat and cloak that we bought from the RM5 shop. It was a really fun night out. We took photos and had our makan-makan. We put on Hocus Pocus and watched it with the children. The only thing we didn’t do was walk around the neighbourhood for trick-or-treating,” she adds, explaining that nobody else in the neighbourhood was out celebrating that night.
The family does not observe the Oct 31 date either; last year’s gathering was held on a Saturday night a week before Halloween.
This year, the children have brand new costumes purchased online but the adults will be recycling theirs. Tan’s cousin Faye Kwan, 17, will don her Little Red Riding Hood cape once again, and Tan’s sister, writer Ee Liza, 26, will reinvent her handmade Tardis, the telephone booth/time travelling machine from Dr Who.
“To the children, Halloween is about dressing up as their favourite characters. For the adults, Halloween is another excuse for a family gathering as we don’t meet often unless there’s a special occasion. I really like how it brings us all together and we can act silly just for the night,” says Kwan.
For Sherry Saw, Halloween is the only time of the year to flex her creative muscles. Her muse has so far been her eldest son, Lei Yeow Shen, eight, who patiently sat though his mothers many attempts to face-paint a Devil on him last year.
“It wasn’t difficult getting my son to understand what Halloween was all about as he had watched films like Paranorman and Frankenweenie. Last year, I learnt about several costume competitions and thought it would be fun to have him enter and meet other tiny ‘ghouls’. He was really excited when I told him about it. We decided on a Devil costume, because I thought I would be able to handle the make-up,” Saw, 35, recalls.
The homemaker ended up spending days trying to perfect the look.
“Firstly, the costume that I had ordered online was of such poor quality I had to style it up with a handsewn cape. I was also really disappointed with the face-painting make-up kits that I had bought from the toy store because they rubbed off really easily. I ended up using a whole pot of my own blusher to give him that realistic red-faced look,” says Saw, who sees Halloween as mother-son bonding time.
All Saw’s efforts were well worth it too as Lei managed to snag the third prize in one of the competitions.
“He won one, and lost out on another, but that’s OK. Right from the start, I made sure he understood that we were in it for fun. He had a great time getting to know the other children in the competition. One girl was in a headless costume and the get-up made her look like she was holding onto her own head! I thought that was really scary, but my son called it ‘creative’,” Saw says.
The mother-of-two was surprised to discover that her son’s costume, which she considers mildly scary, actually frightened off one of Lei’s friends. “The boy backed off a few steps when he saw my son. Maybe he just hadn’t seen enough scary movies!”
Saw feels that Halloween is perhaps the best time to introduce the concept of “horror” to the young ones. This year, Saw’s youngest, three-year-old Wei Lin, will be debuting as Dracula. The family is looking forward to taking the children trick-or-treating at a mall.
“I know of some parents who forbid their children from watching horror movies. I think there’s nothing wrong with exposing the children to a bit of spooky elements every now and then, as long as they know what’s real and what’s not and it doesn’t give them nightmares,” says Saw.
Annie Ng’s idea of Halloween is a little different. Instead of dressing her children up as ghouls, goblins and ghosts, Ng’s twin daughters and son are, more often than not characters from a Disney movie.
The part-time costume maker has a penchant for whipping up one fancy dress after another, especially when Halloween is around the corner. She has also started lending them out to her friends and their children for fun.
“It all began last year when I took my children to visit Disneyland in Hong Kong. I had sewn a pair of Snow White costumes for my daughters and when my friend saw photos of them, she wanted to borrow it for her own daughter. Since then, I’ve been inspired to make more Disney princess costumes,” says Ng, 38.
In her collection now are costumes for Belle, Rapunzel, Tinkerbell, Princess Jasmine and also cartoon favourites like Princess Sofia, Doc McStuffins and the Flintstones, which she shares on her Kostume Klub Facebook page.
Halloween is usually just a quiet affair for the family, except that her children would be dressed to the nines till bedtime.
This year, Ng has made a pair of Princess Elsa and Anna costumes for her daughters, Khor Yin Ai and Yin Xin, five.
“The Frozen theme has been really popular this year, especially Princess Elsa’s costume. It was such a joy to see my daughters dressed up as the sisters from the movie,” Ng says.
While Ng likes the sweet and cute, she has dabbled in the “darker side” too.
“I actually made a Wednesday Addams costume from The Addams Family. When I had my girls try it on, my mother-in-law wasn’t too happy about it. I guess dressing up in a spooky costume is still a taboo for some,” says Ng who sees Halloween as an event to get children excited about becoming their favourite characters for the day.
“I like to see Halloween as nothing more than a fun dress-up day for the kids,” she says.