Joss paper, aka Ghost Money aka Hell Banknotes are burned to honour ancestors during China's Ching Ming Festival.

Co-written with April Barrett, with contributions from the Barrett and Welsh team

As seasoned Canadians, we often take holidays like Halloween for granted. But imagine landing in a new country, and then on October 31st, seeing a bunch of tiny people dressed up in animal onesies, begging for candy at your door.

Super weird.

Interestingly, the core concepts behind Halloween are not entirely unfamiliar to many new Canadians.

In China and among the Chinese diaspora, on Ching Ming Festival or Tomb-Sweeping Day (usually April 4th or 5th), graves are swept and Ghost Money (joss paper) is burned in homage to ancestors. Among Catholics in places like India, Hong Kong and China, Poland and the Philippines, it’s not All Hallow’s Eve that is observed but the two days that follow – All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day – the latter especially is reserved for visits to family graves, to clean them, leave flowers, pray for the souls of the departed and to light candles of remembrance. Among Mexicans, pre-Columbian ancestor worship rituals have syncretised with the Catholic traditions of the conquistadors and have re-emerged as the Dia de Muertos or as gringos have back-translated it, Dia de los Muertos – celebrated over several days.

But the particular candy-flavoured variety enjoyed with such commercial gusto in North America is a little disconcerting at first to Canadian newcomers.

It clashes with health-related customs. “Candy is bad for you!”

It runs afoul of immigrant concerns about frivolous expense. “That black halo is how much?”

Sonia’s most terrifying avatar
And it crashes in confusion as it runs into what is appropriate and what is not, as the kids stare wide-eyed at some waspy stereotype or insensitive pastiche of one’s own culture that is indubitably going to win this year’s gold medal for Most. Offensive. Halloween. Costume. Ever.

To those who are just getting the hang of this holiday, we feel you. Here are some stories straight from our staff, about their first Halloween in Canada.

Sonia My first Halloween? I was in college — it was fun to see all the makeup artist students creating Halloween characters — I got an artificial scar on my arm. The family I was living with went out trick-or-treating. Assignments were scarier to me, so I stayed home alone to work.
Ben tells Agnes about the new deadline
I was warned to not answer the door as the apartment building didn’t allow door-to-door trick-or-treating on Halloween and there were some nasty elements in the building. Around midnight, I heard a knock on the door. I ignored it but the knocking continued and didn't stop for about 10 minutes. Foolishly, with only a shoe to defend myself, I opened the door to find a bunch of drunk teenagers. I was so relieved it wasn’t a masked killer! I didn't have any candy, so I gave them a few muffins and sent them on their way!

Agnes My first Halloween in Canada was... cold. It actually snowed that day. The country that I moved here from, in October, we still wore shorts.

Ben Two months after we landed in Canada, I opened my door to an army of little ghosts, witches and blood-splattered creatures. My kids shrieked with joy as they recognized their schoolmates and blended right into this beloved Halloween tradition that we also celebrated back home. I ate most of the candy.

Savio threatens to edit Gavin's copy
Savio I had heard a lot about Halloween before moving to Canada. Boy, was I in for a treat. Weeks before the day itself, I saw houses adorned and decorated to look terrifying. I was scared just thinking about how the property value would diminish if their houses really became that way. On Halloween, my 3-year old was inexhaustible. He could barely say 'trick or treat' but every house he went to he left with his hands full. He wanted to visit every house in the city. At the end of the night, we had enough sweet treats to open a small store. Kids would not stop visiting our house screaming trick or treat. But when adults started showing up, pretending to be kids, the situation became frightening.

Gavin Not my first Halloween - but the first in our first Canadian home. I went mad — I made jack-o’-lanterns. Inspired by not-yet-a-jailbird Martha Stewart, I carved 13 or 14 pumpkins and squashes. And realized, with a horror that any well-raised Indian will understand, that a tremendous amount of gourd was going waste. I soothed my conscience by cooking every cup of carved-out calabash cavity into a curried soup rich with coconut milk. I served it to the parents who accompanied their kids on their rounds.

Notice anything in these true stories? We’re being let into a secret.

New Canadians want to adopt the rituals of the new home they’ve chosen, mysterious though they may be at first. Canada has embraced them.

Their instinct is simple.

Return the hug.

Happy Halloween folks.

Gavin Barrett is Chief Creative Officer and Ideawallah at Barrett and Welsh, Toronto's most award-winning multicultural agency. Barrett and Welsh is also the official Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Insight in the Kingdom of the Blind.

The NHL took the west coast to the Far East last week staging its first two preseason games between the Vancouver Canucks and the LA Kings in Shanghai first and then Beijing - of all places. As one commentator on LinkedIn said, that's a 1.4 billion man advantage. It certainly appears to be. But is it?

Any expansion into Asia is fraught with the danger of cultural disconnects if unaccompanied by experienced and sober local/cultural counsel. It’s not called the Wild East without reason. India and China are strewn with the carcasses of many a multibillion-dollar mistake made by well-meaning, ill-informed Western clodhopper-corporations seeking conquest. 

I grew up in Asia and the formative years of my career were shaped by my time working in Bombay and Hong Kong, so I am gently skeptical of the western approach. Asians, even without being practitioners of the second oldest profession (advertising) as I am, hail from places that midwifed humanity's oldest cultures, cultures that communicate with degrees of subtlety and nuance rarely practised in the west. Eastern consumers frequently regard clumsy western overtures as one might view an attempted seduction performed by someone without the sense of touch. 

Allow me to explain why I see this particular exercise as, um, unfeeling.

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

Let’s start with the obvious. There are cultural barriers to particular sports and there are cultural affinities for particular sports. Soccer and basketball are "big in China" as the old phrase goes, but table tennis (with 300 million players) and badminton are way bigger as organized sports and are played at a grassroots level. In India, cricket dominates, followed by kabaddi a traditional Indian sport (think rugby meets wrestling), field hockey and soccer. 

There is the climate and the accompanying high cost of ice rinks for countries that are in most parts far warmer than Canada. These are countries where the absence of petrodollar funding usually produces a pragmatic rejection of illusory projects such as one sees in places like Dubai (indoor ski hill anyone?), Doha or Jeddah. The ice rinks that exist in China are largely recreational and used for figure skating, a sport that has a considerable headstart over hockey in China. India has a grand total of six indoor rinks.

Then, there is the matter of income and the access that comes with it.

The average urban Chinese income is about CAD3700/yr (approx. USD3000). This is a huge amount when viewed through an in-China lens because it is a figure that has increased by a factor of 10 compared to what it once was. Yet, in the North American frame of reference, it is shockingly small. 

Here in Canada, hockey is not seen as a sport exclusively for the wealthy because kitting out a minor player costs, at most, CAD1200, and that's well within reach for most Canadians. The average annual income in Canada, after all, is around CAD50,000/yr (or approx. 13.5 times the Chinese annual average). An outlay of CAD1200 for someone earning CAD3700/yr is the financial equivalent of an own goal by a penalty killer. (Surely it must be less for our Chinese Gretzky wannabes because so much hockey gear is made in China? But even if we halve that cost, it is prohibitive.) Hockey may have got a foothold in the thin air of the Indian Himalayas, but as this video shows, there are harsh practical realities. A sport like hockey is simply out of the reach of most urban Chinese or Indian citizens.

Yet, for an audience to love a game, most must harbour deep inside themselves visions of playing it - playing it heroically. Nike knew this many years ago, when it rode the crest of Linsanity, as you can see from this spot.

In short, this is not a North American sporting landscape. 

But that's not all.

Missing the empty net that’s right in front of you

I am gently skeptical of the NHL's ability to get this right when they don't currently get it right, right here in Canada with visible minority immigrant Canadians, especially Chinese and South Asian Canadians. As an evangelist for and practitioner in this space, I would know.  

Unlike the NBA who have managed to break through to immigrant hearts and minds thanks to Jeremy Lin and Yao Ming, the NHL isn't really paying attention.  

For a start, the NHL appears to be forgetting that the sport likely to become its biggest threat here in Canada is a sport played by immigrants. Cricket, once Canada's national sport, is today one of Canada's fastest growing sports - possibly the fastest. This is largely due to grassroots work in Canadian communities by immigrants from across the Commonwealth who are united in their love for the game. 

Immigrants may be behind the growing threat of cricket, but for the NHL they represent a huge opportunity in an otherwise saturated marketplace. In 2017, well over 6 million new Canadian consumers belonged to visible minorities - and South Asian and Chinese Canadians accounted for well over half of that. 

Like most immigrants, they are eager to understand and embrace the culture of their new home without losing their own. Hockey is a central part of that culture and they know that. While the CBC actually built a successful bridge with HNIC in Punjabi first and later in Mandarin (before HNIC moved on to Sportsnet) the NHL in Canada seems unaware of the market growth goldmine they are sitting on, right here. 

Investing in attracting immigrant fans here in North America represents a huge business upside.

Home ice advantage

For organizations like the NHL considering a market play in China or India, there’s a bonus: lessons learned locally from such an investment can be carried to the "away" game. 

Winning with immigrants right here is the equivalent of having home ice advantage in the series. 

Investing in the South Asian and Chinese Canadian segments is a low-cost, high-reward, learning opportunity slapshot. 

What does that sound like? Here’s a taste, first via HNIC's Punjabi play-by-play of a Nick Bonino goal that went viral - in the mainstream - last year:

And this little scene (below) at the Stanley Cup victory rally in Pittsburgh gives you a sense of how completely the Pens embraced Harnarayan Singh's epic broadcast.

It's worth mentioning that Nick Bonino has even suggested his family take it up as a personal ringtone. 

Unfortunately, I think the NHL is tone deaf on this one. 

I see its preseason experiment in China as nothing more than a PR play at best. 

It’s a one-goal wonder that will hog ethnocentric headlines at home in North America and barely appear on the Chinese cultural radar in China. 

Moral of the story: grab the bird in hand. It's a win-win. 

Gavin Barrett is Chief Creative Officer and Ideawallah at Barrett and Welsh, an award-winning multicultural advertising Toronto agency that specializes in the new Canada, a magical place where the cricket is meh, the beer is good and the curry and noodles are shared with all.
Jama Masjid, Old Delhi. Photo by Gavin Barrett

Eid Mubarak to any of our friends, clients or vendors celebrating Eid ul Adha this weekend. And to those on their Hajj journeys, inward, outward, onward, we say khuda hafiz.

Much of the western world tends to think of Eid as the festival that immediately follows Ramadan - or Ramzan - as we call it where I grew up. They are not wrong.

The austerities of Ramadan culminate in the celebration of Eid ul Fitr - literally, the feast of the breaking of the fast. Eid al Fitr celebrations are marked by a spirit of generosity and hospitality is lavished on friends and family.

But it is Eid ul Adha, also known as Greater Eid, or the Eid of the Great Sacrifice, that is the most important feast in the Muslim calendar. Back in India, it was known to all by its colloquial name, Bakri Eid (Eid of the Goat). The name springs from the Eid tradition in which a goat is ritually slaughtered and shared among family, friends and the poor.

For three or four days our Muslim friends around the world set out in brand new clothes, to visit and celebrate with each other and to pray on one of their faith's great solemnities. Unsurprisingly, food and spending on food is a big part of the celebrations and in places with large Muslim populations, messages from major advertisers reflect this focus, as we can see in this ad for McDonald's in India.

In Canada, Muslims now account for nearly 3.2% of the population. At just over a million people, they are the second largest faith group in the country according to the much maligned 2011 census. The linguistic diversity updates from the 2016 census tell us that the fastest growing non-official languages in Toronto after Tagalog are Arabic, Farsi and Bengali - all of them are largely languages of Muslim immigrants. Calgary's Baitun Nur Mosque is believed to be the largest in North America and serves a large, growing congregation.

So, it's somewhat surprising that very few Canadian marketers have taken note of the opportunity, with some notable exceptions like Metro's Adonis grocery store banner and brands like Maple Leaf's Mina Halal and Maple Lodge's Zabiha Halal. Delivering halal products at moments of need and significance to this market of one million-plus hungry consumers is going to be phenomenal for business - especially for those who move first and move fast. It's time to wake up and smell the za'atar. It smells delicious — as most billion dollar opportunities do.

Gavin Barrett is Ideawallah at Barrett and Welsh, an award-winning multicultural advertising Toronto agency that specializes in the new Canada, a magical place where all cultures are understood, shared and enjoyed and the ideas are delicious, meaty and aromatic with spices.

Our #MulticulturalMonday post yesterday took a look at NFL’s simple Kiss Cam twist to the Love Has No Labels diversity campaign. A true celebration of the beauty of love regardless of race, gender, disability, age or religion. 
Kung hei fat choi to all our friends! May this year of the rooster bring you much to crow about.

The Barrett and Welsh #MulticulturalMonday post for January 30, 2017, is a brief musical respite from the savagery swirling around us on the news and in social media. 

Think of it as a much-needed harmonic counterpoint to the cacophony of hatred: the world’s oldest known melody (from what is now modern Syria), played by Michael Levy on a lyre. 

"Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast" wrote Congreve. May it be ever so. 

Peace. Shalom. Salaam. Shanti.

Image from
 My annual habit of sharing the links that led me to think most, love most, give most, pause most over the past year, has long been a replacement (for me) of less useful customs, such as the making of new year resolutions. As the dull disappointments of 2016 fade however, my favourite links for the year ahead are in fact resolutions of a kind.
And so here — in no particular order — are the thinks I enjoyed most in 2016. It strikes me as ironic in the extreme to post these in a year in which thinking itself was valued so little and forgotten so much.
  1. Cure blindness. To see more start here: a quarter of a million photographs from the Eastman Museum. Yes, you can find all sorts of things, but it’s the joy of searching that is most rewarded. From accused murderer Eadward Muybridge’s photographic studies of movement to Warhol’s obsessive iterative experiments your eyes will be opened and your mind blown.
  2. Fight racism. Ask when you don’t know. At Andrew Ti answers your questions about if something is racist or not — and on his podcast of the same name. Hilarious, smart, insightful.
  3. Say what you are feeling. Invent new words if necessary. I felt a strange wistful satisfaction when I happened upon The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a web series which invents new words for the emotions that afflict us and propel us. A labour of love (another powerful emotion), written, edited, and narrated by John Koenig, new episodes are published weekly.
  4. Do not accept accepted wisdom. Revisionist History is a startling, insightful Malcolm Gladwell podcast that looks at the past and discusses forgotten, misunderstood and missed opportunities.
  5. See with your ears. The city of my birth is a tower of sound. Explored through your ears it is equal measures cacophony and music, magical and mundane. Sounds of Mumbai is a beautifully crafted immersive web experience that allows you to plant yourself in my beloved Bombay and experience its clashes, chaos, choral harmonies and rhythms. If you have never been to Mumbai, plug in your earphones and open your mind.
  6. Meet a Nobel Laureate. Read a poet along with his poetry. “You are one of the strangest children I have ever had anything to do with.” That quote comes directly from a note T S Eliot sent Marianne Moore. is a treasure trove of a site lets you discover Eliot’s poetry and correspondence like never before.
  7. Discover a new subcontinent. Learn to listen to a billion voices. On the Tip of a Billion Tongues is a remarkable radio journey by Indo-Australian novelist Roanna Gonsalves (full disclosure, she is a friend) for the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. Roanna dives into 21st century India through the voices, thoughts and ideas of its writers in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Goa.
  8. Hate hate. Kill the hate with laughter. If you struggle to cope with all the online hating, David Thorne’s blog will leave you ROFL. Laughter is the best revenge. Hate less. Laugh more. Or vice versa.
The pleasure is all mine. Feel free to post your own favourites in the comments. To a wonderful 2017 my friends.

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