October 31, 2022 12:15
Most of the victims of the deadly Itaewon stampede last weekend were people in their teens, 20s and 30s who had come out to celebrate Halloween. But how did a parochial American holiday become the biggest celebration among the younger generation in Korea?
As recently as the early 2000s, Halloween was at most celebrated by Koreans who studied in the U.S. or Americans who came to live in Korea, like U.S. soldiers stationed here. But since 2010 the ghost-themed holiday has taken the world by storm and is now bigger than many traditional holidays.
First English-language crammers for kids and other businesses targeting young people began holding Halloween parties. The trend became so popular that parents began to complain about the cost of buying scary costumes for their kids.
According to BGF Retail, CU convenience stores in the Itaewon entertainment district enjoyed their highest beer and whisky sales during Halloween weekend last year. The American tradition of wearing ghoulish costumes was mixed with Japanese anime culture, which only increased the appeal here.
Lee Taek-gwang, a professor of cultural studies at Kyunghee University, said, "For younger Koreans who got a taste of Halloween since they were children, the event naturally became a part of their culture and a cause for celebration."
Social media have fueled the craze. There are 2.35 million postings on Instagram under the hashtag "Halloween." Lee Eun-hee, a professor of consumer science at Inha University, said, "Social media became the medium that spread Halloween culture among young people who are avid consumers and tend to mimic each other's lifestyles."
Corporate marketing also plays a major part. Since 2012, Korean retailers, hotels and amusement parks have been trying to attract customers with Halloween events and products, and provincial governments jumped on the bandwagon. Following the tragedy, major department stores and hotels have canceled their Halloween celebrations.
Itaewon emerged as ground zero for Halloween partygoers due to the high concentration of foreigners and tourists in the area. This year's bash drew even more people since it was the first one to be held since lockdown was lifted.
Last year, around 89,000 people converged on Itaewon over the Halloween weekend despite social-distancing regulations, but this year their numbers welled to an estimated some 200,000 people last Friday and Saturday.
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