As most other Western holidays, after its export to Japan, Halloween has become highly commercialized. Known for costumes and candies, it is the second-largest commercial holiday, with Christmas being the first. Apart from driving sales for candy and costume manufacturers, Halloween can be used to the marketing advantage of virtually any type of business – from Pumpkin Spice Starbucks Latte to McDonald’s Black Burger. Proactive companies know how to devote themselves to the tricky endeavor of making Halloween work for them. Strategic organizations in Japan, focused on serving children, have already recognized the custom of ‘trick-or-treating’ as a highly effective street marketing tool.
And indeed, the event is extremely conductive for raising brand awareness, generating word-of-mouth (especially when it is held at a large scale – picture hundreds of kids dressed up as witches and vampires walking down the streets of the city), and forging relations with local businesses. From the venue hosting the activities to the shops and services (beauty parlours, bakeries, and clothing shops) willing to take part in the generous ‘treating’, “trick-or-treating” is an interactive (‘innocently’ executed) cross-promotion dressed up as a holiday, making it the perfect vehicle for creating positive corporate image.
In true Halloween spirit, the weather gods played a trick on us by sending down some rain. Yet, nothing could stand in our way, for we were determined to ward off the ghosts and the clouds. We welcomed the dampness of the gray day and appreciated the spooky atmosphere it added to the holiday.
Throughout the year, we dedicate a great amount of time and effort into organizing and carrying out events and activities which encourage our students to put into practice what they have learned in the classroom. Each and every one of these events has a meaning and serves more than one purpose.
By celebrating holidays of other countries, we introduce our students to aspects of cultures they are not familiar with. Halloween is the holiday that helps us celebrate world cultures over the autumn season. Through stories and games, we discover the meaning behind its traditions and the beliefs/myths associated with these traditions.
As much as we try to bring the world to the classroom by integrating real-life scenarios into our teaching, venturing out into the streets of the city and communicating in English with complete strangers lends us the opportunity to put our students’ skills to the test in a very casual manner while engaging them in fun and meaningful experiences.
Ironically, our Halloween adventure could be seen as helping kids expand their ability to ‘read’ people and situations in order to avoid trouble. In other words, it teaches us how to be streetwise.
In the West, Halloween is associated with the end of the harvest season. At MY, it is the time when the crops we planted in the beginning of the academic year, back in April, are now ripe and ready to be ‘gathered’.
Halloween is the event of the year both teachers and students look forward to and plan for weeks in advance. It is a chance for our students to dress up and have a good time together. It’s an opportunity for us, their teachers, to enjoy the fruits of our labors by seeing our students communicate in English in real-life situations.
Last Sunday, more than 100 of MY students fluttered on the streets of Yamagata city. They were costumed in masks of skeletons, bloody things, superheroes, and anything that could be thought of representing death or fright. Same as last year, superheroes, witches, and princesses were among the most popular dress-up options for the kids.
This year we found Waldo who tried to trick us into believing (s)he had magic powers and could be at two places simultaneously.
Dressed-up in lots of different costumes, kids had one thing in common – they acted as our school’s ambassadors by carrying our branded ‘trick-or-treat’ bags in their hands.
Going from door to door, our students went trick-or-treating at the shops of MY Friends, a community of local vendors who cater to kids or their moms and always work hard to polish their English language skills. Standing in the doorway before the staff, kids were asking in a loud voice “Trick or treat?” They knew that nothing else could earn them the cookie but kindness and appreciation expressed through saying “Thank you!” and wishing “Happy Halloween”.
Kids were surprised at how generously and warm-heartedly everyone treated them while their teachers were pleased at how well the kids communicated in English both with strangers and with their fellow classmates.
We could overhear them say “This is my favorite candy” and “Which one do you like the most?” “How many did you get?” It was a pleasure to see even shy students who rarely speak up in class, act as confident communicators. Without question, we are doing a great job bringing happiness to our students and building their confidence.