Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas in Korea


(Nutcracker Ballet at the Seoul Arts Center)

Celebrating Christmas in Korea feels a bit different.  At first, you forget that Christmas is around the corner.  In America, the retailers remind you in late September when they decorate the stores and bombard you with TV advertisement.  It reaches a fever pitch on Black Friday, when crazed shoppers fight each other for the hottest gifts.  Santa Clause is in every mall and lights adorn most houses.  You simply can’t forget that Christmas in coming. 

Korea is the second most Christian county in Asia.  So, there are plenty of people who do celebrate Christmas.  However, it isn’t the biggest holiday or even the second biggest holiday in the country.  Department stores do decorate, but not until December and not too much.  Seeing Christmas lights outside of a store setting is rare and if you see them in an apartment window, they likely belong to a foreigner.

We arrived in Korea without any Christmas decorations, and soon I realized this would not do.  We heard of a market selling Christmas items and it was magnificent.  Anything you could want.  However, seeing as most people live in apartments with small square footage, the Christmas trees are smaller.  Oh, and they’re all artificial.  You won’t find any Christmas tree lots here.  So, we purchased our 3 foot tree and some lights and were on our way.  That was enough for us – the decorations here are expensive.  But, oh how our apartment feels lovely now with the tree twinkling.

The week of Christmas finally started to “feel” like Christmas.  We made Christmas cards with our children in the classroom and played Christmas music.  Most of the music they thought sounded funny, weird, or bad…but it’s so joyful to me and that’s what they were stuck with!  I played a Christmas trivia game and we wrote down our Christmas wishes to post them on a green paper tree.  Finally, Santa (my husband Cameron) went visiting each classroom to hand out candy.  Of course, no one was fooled – this was not Santa Clause, but it still fun.

(Cameron/Santa visiting my classes)

At home, we immersed ourselves in Christmas music and classic Christmas movies.  We saw the Nutcracker Ballet in Seoul.  We cut out snowflakes and pinned them to our window.  I went nuts finding and sending Christmas cards home.  I mailed them more than two weeks early…and some still haven’t arrived.  Ugh!  However, my package of presents for the family did arrive on time.  And, from home I received cookies and candied nuts that quite simply tasted like home.  That’s the best flavor.  These are the Christmas rituals we go through to get in the spirit.

Christmas Eve we had to work…as a reporter, this was a familiar scenario.  But, Christmas Day was ours to enjoy.  We were up early…I had one last thing to get at the store.  Yes, all the stores here are still open on Christmas Day.  By 10:30am we were with my husband’s sister and family as well as some friends.  We gorged ourselves on delicious food, all having chipped in for a pricey and hard to find turkey and the fixings.  We played games, put on more movies, and then the gift exchange began.  It was a pleasant, joyful day.

(Cameron's  Christmas was a feast!)

(My nephew Ethan enjoying his new truck)

(Christmas Night -- sleepy, but happy)

The song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a reminder that we should be with family for the holiday.  But…as the song lyrics go “…. I’ll Be Home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  Yet, another year has passed where I wasn’t “home” for Christmas.  And, how often I’ve wished I could catapult myself to New Jersey to be with everyone I love.  However, I was still with family and we were happy together.  In fact the cards my husband and I exchanged said the same thing – as long as we’re together it’s a very Merry Christmas.  We managed to make Christmas in Korea something to celebrate.

(Back at School, posting Christmas wishes to our tree)

(Time for funny faces!) 


  1. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year LB!!!

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