Seoul Shock: Christmas in Korea

Danielle Davidson is currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. This is her firsthand experience with living abroad. 

Toys, lights, Santa Claus, gingerbread houses, candy canes and pine trees are all signature signs that Christmas is near. Waking up on Christmas morning to find presents under the tree was every child’s dream, as was ripping off bows and strings to see what was beneath the colorful wrappings. A holiday is a day to spend with loved ones and to remember the good parts of life.

Either this type of Christmas has been experienced, been seen in movies or been heard about across the U.S., but in Korea there are some slight differences to what Americans would call a picture perfect holiday.

Though it’s a time to spend with family for some here in Korea, I’ve heard different accounts. Couple culture dominates many holidays besides New Year’s and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). For many people of the younger generations it’s a day to spend with their significant other, exchanging gifts and eating out.

 There might be dinner with the immediate family, but rarely are there lists of Christmas parties to attend and lists of family members to visit. So, why not spend the day with friends? It’s a completely different atmosphere surrounding Christmas in Korea.

The days can also be seen as a time to get ahead academically speaking. I’ve talked to students whose friends take classes on Christmas to get ahead of the game. The academic realm in Korea is highly competitive, so taking vacation time to study is common.

Giving presents is also something different. Instead of waking up to find gifts under the tree, presents might just be exchanged from person to person, similar to regular gift giving. The anticipation of finding toys in stockings and under trees isn’t prevalent. Decorations in general aren’t as popular here, even though there are some restaurants and cafes that decorate to fit the holiday season.

But most windows remain bare, without stickers or lights. However, one of the roads near the Yonsei campus is closed for construction and the street has a small clutch of decorations, including a Christmas tree, turning the area in front of campus into a sparse and tiny North Pole. One other thing I found interesting is that candy-canes are non-existent.

It isn’t shocking, but with the transfer of the Christmas holidays to the East Asian culture, I would’ve thought candy-canes got onto the boat somehow. But, either way Christmas is still a time of gift giving and spending with loved ones, it’s just done from a different perspective.

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