By Jenna Gibson
Halloween as we know it in the United States is still not widely celebrated in South Korea. Trick or treating is limited to kindergarten parties and English hagwons, and you’re unlikely to see many jack-o-lanterns or skeletons decorating peoples’ homes.
But in recent years some parts of the holiday have been gaining momentum. In fact, according to a poll by online retail store Gmarket, 72 percent of Koreans are interested in attending a Halloween party – with 82 percent of those in their 20s saying they were interested in participating in festivities.
The problem? Despite the interest, 69 percent of respondents admitted that they had never actually celebrated Halloween.
Things may be looking up for the spooky holiday, though. This year, many stores, including Seoul’s Coex Mall are holding special events and sales for the holiday. Dunkin Donuts is releasing a special “Party Pack” featuring bat- and mummy-shaped donuts, and Holly’s Coffee has included a Halloween theme for its annual “friends and family sale.” For the first time, amusement park Lotte World will be turning its folk museum into a haunted house and holding a special “Halloween Hip-Hop Night Party” on October 30 that will run until 5:00am on the 31st.
The Seoul city government is even getting in on the fun, hosting a Halloween dance party along the Han River where guests are encouraged to dress in traditional Korean outfits (hanbok). According to a city official, this party is a way to “interpret Halloween – a Western festivity – in a Korean way.”
Online, the Halloween spirit continues. “해피 할로윈” (“Happy Halloween”) was a global trending topic on Twitter throughout the day, thanks in part to SM Entertainment, which held its annual Halloween party this week featuring many of the biggest names in K-pop decked out elaborate costumes.
Clearly there is plenty of interest in Halloween among Koreans, but there are certainly some obstacles that remain. One scary part of Halloween in Korea has nothing to do with ghosts and goblins – it has to do with the outrageous prices for kids’ costumes. A JTBC News video shows outfits online going for upwards of $500. A store-bought Elsa costume for Frozen fans will run close to $100. One concerned mother explained that she felt pressure to buy these expensive costumes for her child because other mothers would be doing so.
One other interesting obstacle could be cultural difference. In Korea, summer is the season for horror. Most horror movies plan their releases for July and August with the idea that scary stories can give people a chill to help cool them down during the hot summer months. On the other hand, because of pagan and Christian religious traditions of honoring the dead in late October and early November, most Westerners consider fall to be the time to celebrate all things haunted.
Clearly there is a lot of interest among Koreans in learning more about Halloween and celebrating the holiday. But with more and more outlets embracing the spooky theme, perhaps we will see Halloween become mainstream in Korea in the near future.
Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. KEI intern Juni Kim contributed to the infographic in this post.
Photo from tracy ducasse’s photostream on Flickr Creative Commons.