In the past three years, I’ve spent Halloween in South Korea, New Zealand, and in Canada. From a country that goes all out on Halloween (Canada), to a country that hardly recognizes the day (South Korea), and somewhere in between (New Zealand).
I can’t say I’ve been the biggest fan of Halloween. Even as a kid, the thrill of dressing up and getting candy was torn down by having to wear a snowsuit under my costume, be driven between houses because the distance was too far and too dark, and the existence of molasses candy (just, why?). When you’re older, Halloween becomes a time for drinking or being scared, sometimes at the same time (a bad combination). Here are some of my past Halloween experiences.
Halloween in Canada
If you are in your twenties, a Canadian Halloween is often a night of overly clever or short and tight costumes (also zombies, everyone loves zombies). It is a night of drinking, passing out with a face full of makeup and face paint, and waking up to matted hair and a mess of sparkles, cotton spider webs, and thick and dark fake flood. Or perhaps it is a night of junk food and horror flicks, Ouija in the light of tea candles, or homemade cupcakes with candy worms. Whatever the activity, it is bad form to not at least pay a little homage to the significance of the night. Decorations are a must and often food and drink follow the creepy theme.
Halloween in South Korea
Western influence in South Korea means that, yes, Koreans do know what Halloween is. Yes, if you do to Daiso, Lotte Mart, or Homeplus, you will likely find some face paint and a few pumpkins. Hagwons (private academies) will be decorated and six-year-olds dressed as princesses and superheros will be aplenty. However, this is the extent. Halloween is a western novelty, celebrated by expats and English schools, and mostly ignored by the rest of the population. You probably won’t have trick-or-treaters, and no Korean bars will be serving blood-red cocktails with candy eyeballs.
I celebrated Halloween at my hagwon in the afternoon, dancing with five and six-year-olds to Gangnam Style and eating chocolate. Later, I went out with coworkers to a club where we were the only customers, let alone the only ones in costume.
If you live in Seoul, near Itaewon or in other areas plentiful with expats, Halloween may be a more present thing. I lived in a city of 400,000, and Halloween was confined to expat groups and English schools.
Halloween in New Zealand
My Halloween in Auckland came near the end of a backpacking trip. It was my first night in New Zealand and I decided to join along on my hostel’s Halloween pub crawl. I ran about looking for a costume all day, finally finding one dollar-store-esque shop and stocking up on random costume elements.
Since my Halloween experience was spent with other travelers, rather than locals, I can’t say it was the most authentic. It was easy to see the thrown-together looks that didn’t really fit any theme, including my own, were the product of backpackers looking for an extra excuse to party. Led by a guy in a Tigger onesie, we made our way from one dimly lit and crowded bar to the next, luckily getting free drinks with our tickets. The only thing separating this night from any other backpackers-night-out was the starkly painted faces and the fact that the stumbling couple making out on the dance floor happened to be a pirate and a zombie.
I left early and grabbed some food from a white truck on the street (a food truck, no worries) and snuck some liquor back to my room. All-in-all, not a bad night.