Okay, I’m being dramatic with the “Koreans Hate Christmas” title. But I was a little surprised when I shouted, “Next week is Christmas!” to my students and was showered in a storm of booing. Turns out that Korean Christmas is quite different from western Christmas.
In Korea, Christmas is for couples. One Korean friend said couples like to hike up a mountain and watch the sunset. It sounds romantic until you realize that Korean winters are brutal. The wind cuts through your jacket and clothes and you can forget about your small appendages. They’ll freeze off.
Christmas in Korea is more like our Valentine’s Day. Couples might exchange gifts, have a romantic night out, and declare their everlasting love for each other. On the other hand, those who aren’t so lucky to have found their soulmate will be spending it “with Kevin” meaning they will be “Home Alone” and possibly watching the movie without a mate.
There’s a legend that Myeong-dong in Seoul turns off all their lights at midnight to allow couples to steal a kiss amidst the crowds. There’s very little evidence of this being real but the sentiment is nice.
There are some similarities, though. Christians attend a Christmas service. Christmas music blares from the downtown shops. You’ll hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” more than you will ever want to hear it. Stores decorate and sell Christmas themed items. Some Korean families decorate their homes and put up Christmas trees. Children are told that Santa brings presents to all the good girls and boys. Parents buy presents for their children but not nearly the amount that western parents do. My co-teacher said she gives each of her children one gift. My Korean friend said that her parents left her a gift under her pillow. After the children are grown, Christmas is rarely celebrated.
When living in a different country, it’s nice to have familiar things around the holidays, but it’s also nice to experience it with a different twist.