October 31, 2012

Halloween: Uncelebrated

It is that time of year again, when people dress up to scare each other. Many people just look for an excuse to go out and drink the night away, and for many of those people it is an easy excuse to dress up in revealing clothing and essentially go around town half naked. Which still surprises me I am not complaining though. The reason for the surprise has to do more with the weather than the clothes. It is cold enough for me to wear a jacket, while other people are willing to bare a lot of skin and shiver in place.

In Korea, Halloween is celebrated much differently. This is mostly, because it is not celebrated by Koreans, and apparently no other country celebrates Halloween like we do in the United States. The average American cannot think of going a year without celebrating Halloween. This is something we have ingrained in us as children, going door to door asking for candy. If you were a little older maybe you threw some toilet paper rolls over some trees, and as you became an adult it was based more on drinking activities.

The idea of Halloween is changing in Korea, and I would say that mostly has to do with people like me, who teach English in Korea. We are encouraged to share cultural things about our home countries, and the holidays the students love the most are the holidays we give them something. Especially when that gift is candy the students pay very special attention then. I told them if they wanted to have candy for Halloween they had to say, “John Teacher, trick or treat”. Of course, in class they all wanted to say the special phrase, but I told them they had to come to me after lunch or after my classes finished that day, and then say trick or treat.

It was slow going originally, only a few students showing up at first, but then they must have told their friends that I was serious. Once the students realized I would actually give them candy if they came to me and said, “John Teacher, trick or treat”, they started to swarm my little office. That is the most students that have ever been in my office at once. Before I knew it I was surrounded by many small Korean children all demanding candy. I had to have help from my Korean co-teachers to bring order back to the tiny mob of candy craving Koreans.

I had a set system in place: they would line up in straight line, then say to me, “John Teacher, trick or treat”. Then if the student said the phrase correctly, I would give the student two pieces of hard candy and one piece of chocolate candy.

These immortal creatures were romanticized by Bram Stoker and are featured in more monster/horror movies than any other monster in history.

What about for adults in Korea? The older Koreans do not celebrate Halloween. A specific demographic of the younger generation are the ones celebrating, meaning Koreans under the age of 30 who live in the big cities near a lot of foreigners. That specific group of Koreans will be more likely to dress up for Halloween. They use the time just as we do, as an excuse to dress up and get wasted beyond recognition. Then they say that they were enjoying a cultural experience. I visited Seoul this weekend, and I was near Itaewon, a large foreigner area in Seoul. The costumes were out and so were the cops. I have personally never seen that many cops in the area before.

The Good: children get to have a cultural experience and enjoy a lot of candy.

The Bad: people making fools of themselves, and making the whole foreigner population look like a bunch of crazy dumbasses.

Image Credit: Paul Stringer / Shutterstock

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