Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Holidays in Korea

I get asked many time about how Koreans celebrate the Holiday Season. To start off, it is definitely not the same as back home, but it does have it's quirks. 

Korea does have a big Christian population, so they know the importance of the day. What they don't have is the loooooong historical traditions that the west has. On Christmas Day they do go to church, but that's it (to the extent of my knowledge).

Outside of religion, the concept/spirit of Christmas has no other special meaning to most people. For a lot of us, it is about enjoying the day with family and/or friends, eating great home cooked food, and just enjoying that special atmosphere of what I can only call the Holiday Spirit. 
Christmas 2012 in a Daegu amusement park (I don't remember the name)

What is interesting though, is that many young people have adopted Christmas as a romantic day and will spend it with their special someone on an extra romantic date as if it were another Valentine's.

Now for the decorations. When I was in Pohang, the decorations were scarce. Some chain food places had small Christmas trees here and there, but nothing that blew my mind. The first time I was impressed by the decorations was when I went to the Shilla Hotel in Gyeongju; now that was a tree (pic -->).

In Soeul, decorations are much more abundant. Most businesses will have something up and even some buildings are nicely decorated with colorful lights. 

Since all Christmas stuff is imported, a lot of it is super expensive. For example, regular Christmas lights can start at $15 compared to the $5 bucks they cost back home. You can buy cheap decorations at Daiso, but those can only do so much, though every year they keep having better stuff. 

2013 White Elephant Party
Most children do know about Santa Claus. I used to tutor a little 7-year old whose mom used Santa Claus as a way to get him to study. I can't really say though that this is the norm. I think even though most kids know about Santa, they don't "get" gifts from him.

As to festivities, I've been pretty lucky to be surrounded by awesome people so there is always something to do. Ninety-nine percent of bars/restaurants are open that day, and some even serve a traditional Christmas meal ...well, the Murrican type; I'd kill for some tamales and ponche! Actually last year, I was able to make and eat tamales for Dia de los Reyes, yum!!!

Anyways, instead of the traditional Holiday Parties people have back home, we get into the Holiday Spirit by enjoying a variation of other activities. 

One of the most traditional things my friends and I do is a White Elephant Party which we have been doing for a couple years now. 

There's also the European Christmas Market. They have amaaaaazing gluhwein (mulled wine) to keep you nice and toasty through the freezing temperatures.
There are also musicals and performances:
The Nutcracker! (2014)
Handel's "Messiah"  (2014)

And SantaCon!!
2014 as Cupid the reindeer
SantaCon 2015 in the subway
New Year's is not a big deal here. I've spent it at different clubs, and it mostly feels like any other party night though sometimes the bars will give free shots right at twelve. About three years ago in Gangnam, they had huge balloons where you could write a message, and at twelve they were "released" (I used quotation marks because we thought they were going to be completely released, but the rope was just let go about 10 feet, lame!)

Celebrating the New Year (2013-14)
Some people have gone to the ringing of the Boshingak bell (video) somewhere in Jongno, but I heard it's nothing to be impressed by; they ring the bell and that's it.

I guess it's not a big deal because Korea (back in day) used the Lunar Calendar, thus they celebrate the Lunar New Year, called Seollal a.k.a. the Chinese New Year. Therefore, their traditional celebrations are saved for that day (and hellooooooo bonus from work hehehe).

I do wish I could spend Christmas at home. Mexican Christmas is a total different thing from the American one; we party! We start celebrating on Christmas Eve and party until Christmas Day. 

But anyways, don't forget to hug your loved ones this Holiday Season and be thankful you get to spend time with them.

Happy Holidays!


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