To say that Korea doesn’t celebrate Halloween is not quite right.
A week before October 31 I was in Seoul and I saw two Korean girls in costume, one was the devil (or the devil’s daughter, as some of my students said) and the other was simply wearing a blue wig, the hair cropped mid-neck. They knew about Halloween, though, and some of my students (and now all of my students know) knew about it, too. Foreign teachers, like myself, teach them, mostly at the academies or hogwons, which is a Korean word, they attend after school. Maybe that’s obvious, but it hadn’t crossed my mind last Monday when I walked into class to find some students in costume and hitting me with all kind of spooky knowledge about this strange holiday. Not only that, but some were even asking really good questions – such as, Who started Halloween? – which I wasn’t able to answer.
Most of them, though, just wanted candy, and on October 31, I gave it to them. The day before, I went to E-Mart and spent somewhere around 100,000 w on it*. I dragged five bags a couple blocks, then took a taxi the rest of the way. Halloween morning, I dragged it all back to my school, which is ten minutes from my apartment, walking the whole way. The kids didn’t mob me, but at one point during the middle of the day they were lined up the length of half the hall (and my school’s halls are long). I only gave each student one piece of candy, for fear of running out, but I ended up with a huge box full leftover. I plan to sell the candy, piece by piece, to my students for 5 Eric Teacher dollars, currency with my picture on each bill, currently in mass production.
As for my personal Halloween night celebration, I decided to stay home and introduce a couple more family-oriented traditions to one of my Korean friends. We carved a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern, complete with eyebrows and freckles that were made with a chopstick, and roasted the seeds in a frying pan, which actually worked quite well. Jack’s got such a stupid grin in his face but he kept us warm and safe, warding off the devil’s daughter, till the early morning. I doubt very much that I’ve had this much fun during Halloween since I was a child myself.
*In Korean, you would say sip maan won, sip (pronounced ‘sheep’) is 10 in the Sino-Chinese number system, maan means 10,000, and won is comparable to the word dollar.