October 16, 2023 12:51
Enthusiasm for the American custom of Halloween has waned dramatically in Korea a year after a stampede in Itaewon killed 159 people on the day.
English-language kindergartens, where Halloween parties first started in Korea, amusement parks and major retailers have no plans to celebrate the ghoulish festival this year. Lotte World and Everland, which used to host huge Halloween festivities, scrapped their plans completely, while E-mart, Homeplus, Costco and other superstores are selling no Halloween costumes and snacks.
Hotels and restaurants largely consider the subject taboo even though they used to enjoy a 20-30 percent surge in business at Halloween, a crucial money-spinner between Chuseok and Christmas. But now businesses are more afraid of opprobrium if they are seen to try and make money while the tragedy is still fresh in people's minds.
Halloween is an American invention with its roots in various autumnal rituals associated with All Hallow's Eve. One claim is that the Celts of Ireland used to hold rituals to appease the souls of the dead and chase away evil spirits.
But the custom of dressing up in scary costumes and going trick-or-treating is a very recent import from the U.S. spread by young Koreans who went to school in America and global marketing.
Over the last 10 years, Halloween parties became a fixture at kindergartens and English-language crammers here, but this year many of them have told parents that they are off.
The head of one English-language crammer in northern Seoul said, "We used to hold big Halloween parties every year to let our students experience American culture, but now many parents feel we should remember the Itaewon tragedy."
One parent said, "Just looking at Halloween costumes reminds me of the horrific scenes of the stampede. I never liked the ghoulish costumes anyway and I hope I never see them again." Other parents said they are happy they do not have to spend money on costumes and candy.
But others say that only conceals the real problem. One university lecturer said, "The fundamental cause of the stampede was a disregard for safety that is rampant in Korea. Why do we all have to live in guilt just because of that accident? I wish people would not force everyone else to feel depressed."
And some feel suppressing Halloween is xenophobic, saying the festival gave young Koreans a chance to loosen up in a regimented society and express themselves creatively through their costumes.
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