Seoul Bakery Faces Backlash For Selling Pumpkin-Shaped Cookies Amid Itaewon Tragedy Memorials

Seoul Bakery Faces Backlash For Selling Pumpkin-Shaped Cookies Amid Itaewon Tragedy Memorials

The seemingly innocent business decision was met with criticism.

As the haunting memories of the Itaewon tragedy loom large over Seoul, a local bakery in the Gyeonggi region finds itself in the crosshairs of public sentiment. The bakery, operated by a 33-year-old man, faced unexpected backlash for selling pumpkin-shaped cookies.

Photo for illustrative purposes. | Getty Images

The Itaewon tragedy, which claimed 159 lives a year ago, has cast a somber shadow over this year’s Halloween celebrations. As families and friends mourn their loved ones, there has been a strong public sentiment urging a more subdued, “quiet Halloween.” This sentiment has been especially prevalent in various online forums, particularly among housewives sharing parenting and local news on platforms like KakaoTalk open chat rooms, in attempts to reinforce the sentiment.

Memorial for Itaewon victims. | Yonhap

The bakery in question — a small establishment catering mainly to children — decided to make cookies shaped like pumpkins and ghosts, symbols commonly associated with Halloween. However, this seemingly innocent business decision was met with criticism. Screenshots of chats critiquing the sale of such cookies began circulating online. The main theme of the criticism was the inappropriateness of selling Halloween products in the present atmosphere, given the tragic event.

The bakery owner expressed his distress over the situation, stating that he was deeply hurt by the criticisms. The backlash led him to compulsively search various online forums and chat rooms to see if there were any further mentions of his store.

Shops with Halloween themed display, the day after the tragedy. | Korea Daily

The criticism faced by the Seoul bakery reflects a broader societal trend in South Korea. Many retailers, both big and small, are treading carefully around Halloween this year. Major corporations and theme parks that typically celebrate Halloween with massive festivals are also choosing to downplay the occasion. The reason is clear: the public’s sentiment is sensitive, and companies are wary of appearing insensitive or capitalizing on such events in the wake of a national tragedy.

Halloween in Itaewon, 2015.

Stores and businesses that have traditionally relied on Halloween for a sales boost are now under pressure. For instance, major stores like Daiso and Artbox, which displayed Halloween-themed products, faced similar public criticism.

This year’s subdued approach to Halloween isn’t limited to retailers. Educational institutions, including kindergartens and language schools in Seoul, have either canceled their Halloween parties or rebranded them to avoid direct association with the festival.

“Lotte World” Halloween festivities in past years. | Lotte World

In the face of such deep national grief, the public’s sentiment towards a subdued Halloween is entirely understandable.  While traditions and celebrations are essential aspects of societal culture, there are moments in history that demand reflection and respect. This year, as Seoul remembers the Itaewon victims, it’s essential to prioritize empathy and understanding.