According to the report of the Lotte Mart, during the most recent three-year period, sales of Halloween party goods for children have increased steadily, more than 30% per year. Even though unique costumes are only worn once a year, parents spend between 50,000~100,000 won buying costumes for their kids, often biting the bullet. In the past, Halloween events were only held around some English institutes in Gangnam, where kindergarteners are taught in English. However, Halloween events are spreading to general preschools and nurseries, which have led to an increase in sales of Halloween goods.
Nowadays in Korea, Halloween is no longer a holiday that only children can enjoy. Various clubs and bars hold parties to celebrate Halloween and some theme parks are decorated with a Halloween theme. Some celebrities upload photos to Social Network Services of themselves getting dressed up, wearing terrifying or provocative Halloween costumes, to stimulate the interest of their fans.
▲ UOS students are enjoying Halloween party | SeoulMate
As Halloween has become popular in Korean society, an ever-increasing number of people are celebrating Halloween every year. In the meantime, however, criticism is also growing. People who criticize this social phenomenon raise questions such as why Koreans should celebrate a western holiday, especially when they do not even know about its origin. A much greater problem is that many Koreans lose their interest in Korean holidays or anniversaries, while enjoying western holidays. This article will focus on actual conditions about how Korean society accepts Halloween culture through interviews and surveys.
Halloween in Korea
Then, how deep is Halloween culture taking root within Korea? We checked on how Halloween festivals are progressing in English institutes, which played a leading role in spreading Halloween into Korean society. We interviewed Heidi Leigh Ferster, who works as a teacher in an English institutes near Mokdong.
Q1. How did your institute celebrate Halloween? We called children’s moms beforehand and asked them to open their homes for us to go trick or treating. Kids got to walk around Mokdong in their costumes. Most of the time little girls wanted to be princesses and little boys wanted to be super heroes. They got to knock on doors, saying “Trick or Treat.” And their parents warmly had things like cookies and candy, waiting for them. Sometimes their mothers would have face paintings or games that they could play in their homes.
This year, we had a haunted house in the institute, which is basically a scary house. When the kids entered it, staff dressed up as ghosts scared the kids. We also had a shopping day where they could buy Halloween stuff like spider rings or spider tattoos.
Q2. Do teachers explain the origins of Halloween to the students? No. We explain what we usually do on that day and how we dress up as or what we eat but not where it came from, because I teach preschoolers, mostly six-year-olds. They do not understand, because they are too young. Maybe in older classes, teachers will teach them about Halloween.
Q3. Do teachers also let the kids know about Korean holidays in English language institutes? Yeah. We, even I teach them about Korean national holidays. In fact, I think I teach more about them than my Korean partner. I talk all about Chuseok, Parent’s day, Children’s day and so on. But the kids do not actually get to experience traditions such as making Songpyun. It is because most of them already know how to make it. But they do not know how to talk about such days in English, so we teach them about their holidays in English.
Through the interview, we found out that kids in English language institutes celebrate Halloween in similar ways to foreign children. Halloween seems to be considered as a very big and important event. It is a pity that they celebrate Halloween more than other Korean holidays.
How do people celebrate Halloween, if they are not children, but rather adults? This past Halloween, SeoulMate, an organization that helps exchange students adapt to life at the University of Seoul (UOS), held a Halloween party on UOS’s campus. We interviewed Kim Hyun-soo (Dept. of Business Administration, 10’) of SeoulMate who helped plan the Halloween party.
Q1. What is the reason SeoulMate planned a Halloween party? Actually, we held a Halloween party to help promote SeoulMate to students. We considered a cultural experience that both foreign and Korean students could share together. If we held a Korean style party, foreign students might find it difficult to enjoy. Foreign friends have already been educated about Korea a lot, so why should we insist on having a Korean style party when we just want to have fun?
Q2. What happened at the Halloween party? The party took place at night, so we prepared some alcohol for more enjoyment. People were encouraged to wear Halloween costumes. However, we lent out some costumes and did face painting for those who could not, or would not, come dressed up. We also had costume awards and gave a prize to the best dresser.
Q3. What do you think of Korean people who take part in Halloween parties without knowing about their origin or meaning? I do not think it matters. If they are curious about it, they can easily find information on the Internet, so I do not think we need to let people know about it.
SeoulMate held a Halloween party just for the sake of having a party for anyone who was willing to come, rather than celebrating Halloween itself.
Surveys about Halloween
How do UOS students appreciate Halloween? We conducted a survey of 121 students.
46% of people thought positively about the prevalence of Halloween culture in Korea. There were analytical responses such as culture would become more diverse in Korea and the party culture would be greater developed by accepting Halloween. However, most of the respondents simply answered that they can have fun and do enjoyable things by accepting Halloween. They seem to think the prevalence of Halloween is not a big problem.
On the other hand, negative responses only counted for 15% of those surveyed. These respondents sneered at people who celebrated a western holiday without knowing about Korean holidays well, and said just enjoying something without knowing its purpose or origin is wrong. There were other opinions such as ‘Halloween does not fit in with Korean’s sentiments,’ ‘It seems to degenerate into just a day of wearing costumes,’ ‘People spend too much money’ and so on.
39% of respondents took a neutral position. They had several ideas. For example, enjoying a party is a matter of personal choice; it is just a holiday like Christmas or Saint Valentine’s Day, and Halloween is not as prevalent as people might think. However, the opinion that individuals do not care much about Halloween culture was overwhelming. It seems that such indifference is related to the proportion of people who have participated in Halloween parties in the past, which was only 29%.
The ratio of people who know about the origin of Halloween was 29%. There was a gap of more than 10% between 29% and the above mentioned 46%. Of course, knowing about the origin of Halloween itself would not be absolutely related to the attitude of acceptance. However, to some extent this result shows the fact that many people think they can fully enjoy that culture, regardless of whether they know about its origin or not.
Then, in the west where modern Halloween culture started, how much do they know about Halloween? Heidi responded that “Many Americans do not know the origins of Halloween. I think I know a little, but I do not know everything about it. People just have fun by doing activities like decorating a tree or buying presents for their family on Christmas. During Halloween, people can dress up how they like and pretend to be someone else.”
What does she think about Koreans enjoying Halloween without knowing about its origin? “It is interesting that Korean people celebrate Halloween, because it is from a different culture. Even though I am a foreigner, I celebrate Chuseok. It is because I know what it is. However, if I did not know about Chuseok, I would not celebrate it. If it bothers them that they do not know much about it, then they should look it up online. But I do not think most people care about where it came from. Nevertheless, I think celebrating Halloween in Korean society is good because it exposes Koreans to other cultures.”
A Survey about the Perception of Korean Feasts
It is rather unfortunate that most Americans also have fun at Halloween without knowing about the origin or meaning of it. However, at the same time, it is an interesting fact. How about Korean holidays, then? How much do UOS students know about these Korean holidays? We asked a question regarding the exact names and dates of Korea’s four major holidays. They answered as follows.
Not one student knew all the names and dates of the four holidays. Those who knew three holidays, forgetting about Hansik, were only 30% of the total surveyed. Although Dano and Hansik are considered two of the four major holidays, these days are passing by nowadays without attention. People do not seem to know much about holidays. Korea’s traditional holidays are usually related to the subdivisions of the seasons of the lunar calendar. Thus, people who are unfamiliar to the lunar calendar would not know the precise dates of these holidays. The result of this survey shows us indicator increasing trend of Korean university students neglecting Korean holidays.
People no longer say that Christmas and Saint Valentine’s Day are only western holidays. Will Halloween be the same? It is not simply a question of Halloween. Foreign cultures are accepted so that we can experience a variety of cultures. Some of these cultures are taking root in Korean society. Many people are letting ‘enjoyment’ be the priority and do not take the time to deeply consider the origin or meaning of cultures.
The bigger problem is that while we accept other cultures joyfully, our culture is being neglected. It is the same for western cultures. While their cultures are being spread all around the world, the ‘essence’ of their cultures is being forgotten and is disappearing replaced by ‘entertainment’ and ‘light enjoyment.’
It is important that we pursue happiness during our lifetime. However, we should at least know about the fundamentals of our sources of enjoyment. A culture where people do not know its fundamentals will certainly be corrupted.
Origin of Halloween It originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain in Ireland. The last day of the Celtic calendar year was October 31 and this was the time when they would honor the Lord of Death, Samhain. www.halloween.com
Dano It is an official holiday in North Korea and one of the major traditional holidays in South Korea. In the Mahan confederacy of ancient Korea, this was a day of spiritual rites, and enjoyment with song, dance, and wine. Traditionally, women washed their hair in water boiled with Sweet Flag (changpo), which is believed to make one’s hair shiny. The persisting folk games of Dano are the swing, ssireum and taekkyon. The swing was a game played by women, while ssireum was a wrestling match among men.
▲ A painting depicting Dano by Shin Yoonbok in 1758 | Wikipedia
Hansik In Korea, it literally means ‘cold food.’ In the modern version of Hansik, people welcome the warm weather thawing the frozen lands. On this day, rites to worship ancestors are observed early in the morning, and the family visits their ancestors’ tombs to tidy up. At this time of year, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies. The custom of eating cold food on this day is believed to be originated from a Chinese legend, but recently this custom has disappeared.