Halloween is one of many rituals that cannot be framed by causality. Shown by the discrepancy between the number of people who celebrate this annual event and that of those who actually understand its origin, it’s not difficult to unveil the celebration as a secular force, and it is even easier to see the celebration as lacking a clear-cut rationale. Thus, it would be more accurate to interpret Halloween as an excuse for an escapade, or a change of equivalent thrill. As grand as the analogy seems, it is much more familiar to us than many would like to believe; it is just like the myriad of events that we celebrate to make everyday seem a little more special than usual. On that note, it may be worth asking whether it is appropriate to appraise the awareness of this cultural phenomena in another country based on how closely it resembles the way it is celebrated in America - kids in ghoulish costumes skipping from door-to-door, competing for who can collect the heaviest load of candies or even the households who prematurely transform their lawns into pumpkin yards. For what Halloween truly stands for, or for what it doesn’t, its presence in any country or culture should be recognized by its ability to stir up some variations.
It is hard to argue that Halloween has a cultural stronghold in Korea. The considerable lack of spider webs or skull lamps out on the streets on October 31 is a clear testament to the void conviction on trick-or-treating. However, this does not suffice the judgment that Halloween is not celebrated in Korea. Over the years, Halloween themes have been commercialized in the city centers of Seoul. Associated themes of the “dead” and numerous costume options are used in clubs or bars to hold annual events. The streets of Hongdae and Itaewon have become more vigorous in adapting to the themes of Halloween, and an unprecedented number of expats comes to enjoy the revelry. It’s true that these adaptations are exclusively open to legal age groups, but the nightlong events are similar to how it was celebrated by the early Christians. Originally called the “Samhain”, Halloween was a Celtic festival until it was co-opted with the Christian church. The day was designated as a “Holy” (Hallows) day to commemorate the past saints and would begin with the vigil of the night before; this is where the festival gets its name Hallow E’en (E’en being a contraction of the word “evening”) from. Of course, the historical relevance of Korea’s adaptations is not something that was planned out beforehand, but if one were to argue for its Halloween-esque features, this would be it.
So it is plausible to see Halloween as something that is at least “recognized” in Korea, but why is it less prevalent and less strongly felt than other developed countries that can afford to facilitate it? Looking at Britain and Mexico for instance, Halloween may have seeped in more naturally because of the festivities that take precedent in the respective countries - simply adding a new flair to the existing rituals than contesting for its own spot. The Guy Fawkes Day that is celebrated for salvaging the House of Lords from a potential terror attack is a legally celebrated festival in Britain on November 5, complemented by bonfire and fireworks. As for Mexico, the Day of The Dead is a festival held on November 1st where families gather to pray for the dead families and friends. The skull masks and its frequent association with the Western Christians’ triduum make the festival almost identical to Halloween. On the other hand, the jesa culture in Korea takes a different form and scale from the aforementioned two. Families convene jesas privately, and whilst it’s prevalent, it’s far from being communal. The somber demeanor the ritual carries makes it hard for it to sync in with the jubilance of the Halloween festival.
Upon contact of two or more societies, it is believed that the cultures either diffuse or acculturate one another - Korea struggles to see through either of the scenarios. However, the way in which Halloween has set foot in the country is rather smart; whilst it doesn’t intervene with the local traditions, it still manages to carry forth the effect that the festival ultimately generates. As limited as many foreigners may believe Halloween is in Korea, the itty-bitty twists that become apparent on October 31 make Halloween something to look forward to for many people. It is true that Halloween here is nothing like it is in the States, but festivals can take different forms and be celebrated to different extents, and accepting this variable may be a healthier stance. It is uncertain how the Halloween culture in Korea will develop in years to come, but wherever it turns to, it should not be judged against a set cultural template.