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Christmas… in Korea?

Ho ho ho!

Santa and his trusty reindeer land on rooftops, and he shimmies down the chimney to deliver Christmas presents for those on his ‘Nice List.’ Sound familiar?

This is what some of you inevitably expected of Christmas when you were younger and still held onto the notion of a mystical figure who brought gifts on one magical winter holiday of the year. Although you grew up and eventually learned that (SPOILER ALERT!) Santa Claus did not actually exist, you still probably promoted the idea to future generations. Even minus a jolly red-cheeked fat man with gifts, Christmas is still a joyous holiday the world over, all about spreading holiday cheer to family and friends—even as far as Korea!

Yep, you read that correctly. Christmas is celebrated in Korea as well as in many Western countries. Indeed, the Korean notion of Christmas are pretty similar to that found in the West, but with a few tweaks.

Santa Claus exists in the hearts of most young children in Korea as in many other countries. Parents tell their children to behave and be nice if they want Santa, often called Santa haraboji (????; Grandpa Santa) to bring them presents. However, as the children grow older, they discontinue their belief in Santa, and as such, they stop receiving presents. Most children stop getting presents once they become middle school students. In Korea, no strict custom exists for family or friends to give and receive Christmas gifts. This is definitely different from most countries in the Western World. I must tell you the story of my friend in Australia who very nearly forgot to send her entire families gifts out one year!! Luckily she had a very reliable Courier Service to bail her out in the nick of time. Back to Korea, so no Christmas presents, you ask? Then what about the food? Surely, there shall be a feast to celebrate with the family!

Nope, the only food that is especially popular on Korean Christmas is Christmas cake. Christmas is, after all, the birth of Jesus Christ, and what better way to celebrate his birthday than with a cake? Thus, every year, bakeries try to outdo one another with extravagant cakes. Stroll into any bakery near the holidays and you’ll find the store brimming with Christmas cakes.

Korean Christmas cake

Korean Christmas cake

Most, if not all, churches in Korea welcome anyone and serve food (don’t expect anything too special) and sometimes small gifts around Christmas. Because 25 percent of the Korean population is Christian, many churchgoers, as well as non-Christians, attend Christmas service in church. For those that prefer not to spend the holiday in church, there are other options.

Many people choose to spend Christmas with their family, regardless of how bland the holiday may be. For others, it’s a day to go out drinking and partying with friends. On Christmas Eve and Christmas day, you’ll find most pubs and bars filled to the brim with patrons looking for some holiday ‘spirit.’ In parts of Seoul like Gangnam or Hongdae, you’ll see groups of men and women mixing together, trying to see if they can find love. There’s even a huge event called “solo daecheop (????; victory for singles)” on Christmas where single folk come out to find partners. However, for those who already have a significant other, the day is dedicated to enjoying a romantic date. On Christmas Eve and Christmas day, you’ll see many couples walking hand in hand, taking in the sights. Visit any restaurant and most of the tables are occupied with couples. Who knows? You might find a relationship too.

Males tend to receive car-related gifts, as the car culture there is absolutely crazy. These cool ideas will show you just some of the “most popular” gifts that husbands, teenagers and mid-aged car-crazy men receive.

Matching singles in Korea during the holidays

Matching singles in Korea during the holidays

Those who live in or frequent downtown Seoul know certain districts light up with bright Christmas decorations during December. Most decorations are put up in big shopping districts, or Korea’s many cafes. So if you’re feeling homesick, try hanging out in the booming shopping district ?? (Myeongdong, Line 4) or Times Square in ??? (Yeongdeungpo, Line 1).

Christmas in Myeongdong

Christmas in Myeongdong

There are many ways to spend the Christmas holidays. So if you happen to be an expat in Korea during them, don’t shut yourself in your home, thinking about your past holiday experiences. Go out and take in the sights, meet new people, grab a few (or more) drinks with friends, or if you have family, spend a warm and cheerful holiday with them. Christmas isn’t about where you are; it’s about those with whom you choose to spend it. Merry Christmas!

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Written by Isaac Kim

Hey there, I’m an aspiring journalist who is in the prime of his life. I’ve lived in America most of my life, but because I can adapt to anything, I’ve integrated quite well in Korean society. I hope to see the world and write about and share what I see. I like places with large bodies of water (especially the ocean), and one day, I will have a kickass beach house where I’ll spend my time writing and sipping mojitos.

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