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.
Happy December! The school year is almost over. One more month plus that weird week for graduation and then we’re done!
The following is a guest post by my friend Mike.* (Names have been changed.) Mike’s perspective is especially interesting in that he is a vegetarian and did not particularly enjoy his time in Korea. Since writing this post, Mike has completed his 1 year contract and moved on. If you’re looking to teach in Korea, it’s always nice to read as many different perspectives as you can.
This is Mike’s story:
I’m Mike and I’ve lived in Korea for 10 and a half months now. No, this isn’t my opening statement for Korea Anonymous, but I do have some confessions before I get into this. Confession 1: I’ve never written a blog piece before so apologies for this. Confession 2: I am a (strict) vegetarian, and as such I am on the periphery of Korean social culture which invariably centres around food and restaurants. This has no doubt had some considerable effect on my ability to integrate into Korean society, and certainly affects my views of life in Korea. Confession 3: Before this, I wrote a 3 page rant about Korea… I was trying to write this blog post and it just developed into a looooong, rambly rant.
I consider myself somewhat well traveled. I’ve visited around 30 countries across 4 different continents so far, and I’ve liked all but two of the countries I’ve visited; Bulgaria and Korea.
November 11 is Pepero Day in Korea. Pepero is a Korean snack. It’s a thin breadstick covered in chocolate and other flavors. If you’ve ever had a Japanese Pocky, it’s basically the same thing. The date being 11-11 is to the likeness of Peperos being long and thin, just like the number one.
According to the most reliable source on the internet, Wikipedia, Pepero was originally given to friends on Pepero Day in hopes of being taller and thinner. From my experience, the current trend of Pepero Day has changed since then. It’s more like the Valentines Day for friends. You go, Glen Coco! In my main middle school, giving Peperos are banned. I think it has something to do with money, status, bribes, and the makings of a Korean Millennial Generation. That doesn’t stop them from sneaking them in and swapping anyway.
At any rate, if you would like to participate in Korean culture, make sure you buy some Peperos and give them to people you
pretend to like.