As the first anniversary of the tragic Halloween crowd disaster in Itaewon approaches, South Korea sees a notable shift in the celebration of Halloween this year. The usually vibrant festivities have been toned down or canceled altogether, reflecting the somber mood enveloping the nation.
Traditionally, amusement parks have capitalized on Halloween, hosting themed events to attract visitors. However, this year, a noticeable change is seen. Lotte World, a significant recreation complex in Jamsil, launched its festival in September under the theme “Dark Moon in Lotte World,” partnering with a webcomic featuring HYBE boy group ENHYPEN. This is a departure from its usual practice of hosting Halloween events, which included haunted houses, zombie performances, and park-wide Halloween decorations.
Similarly, Everland, another popular theme park in Yongin, has adopted “Happy Thanksgiving Day” as this year’s theme. The park’s Four Season Garden is adorned with autumn flowers and fruit, planning a carnival fantasy parade instead of a Halloween-themed one.
Local Halloween-focused festivals have not been spared either. The “Daegu Halloween Festival,” a significant celebration since 2018, has been canceled. The decision, as stated by Daegu’s Nam District Office, was made considering public sentiment ahead of the tragedy’s first anniversary.
Educational institutions like kindergartens and private academies, which usually hosted small-scale Halloween parties, are also following suit by canceling their Halloween celebrations. For instance, a kindergarten in southern Seoul’s Dongjak District, which held a Halloween party last year, has opted for an autumn food event this year.
The public has shown understanding towards these changes, albeit with mixed feelings. Kim Yu Bin, a 24-year-old office worker, expressed that while she understands the importance of commemorating the tragedy, she believes that the Itaewon incident and Halloween celebrations should be viewed separately.
I understand the intent and the importance of remembering the tragedy, but I’m not sure it is necessary to ban celebrating Halloween. The tragedy in Itaewon and Halloween itself should be separated.
— Kim Yu Bin
Online community sites share similar torn sentiments regarding Halloween celebrations this year. A discussion has emerged about whether visiting Itaewon during Halloween is inappropriate. Opinions vary, with some advocating personal choice, while others caution against it, especially given the potential for crowds around Hongik University in western Seoul, which also saw a large gathering last Halloween weekend.
This shift in Halloween celebration reflects a collective introspection and a gesture of respect towards the victims of last year’s Itaewon tragedy. As South Korea navigates through these changes, the dialogues on public safety, commemoration, personal choice, and sensitivity continue to evolve.