In the spirit of the season, I have been asked to write a few words on Christmas traditions in South Korea.
Like many of you, I have never spent a Christmas in Korea. Everything I know has been gleaned from Kdramas, which inform me that Christmas in Korea usually involves snow and romantic moments framed by Christmas lights.
But what’s Christmas really like beyond those fuzzy drama scenes?
Our findings are as follows:
Instead of getting all the shopping over with before Christmas, Koreans tend to shop the day of. Even more surprising: they don’t shop necessarily to buy gifts. Christmas shopping is done more so in the spirit of recreation instead of the spirit of giving. In the words of one Korean expat: “[Christmas] is kind of like Black Friday, except the streets are swarming with couples.”
1: Sucks to be single on Christmas.
Christmas is a family-oriented holiday in the U.S, But in Korea, Christmas is a time for couples to go out and enjoy themselves. Not unlike its image in Kdramas, Christmastime in Korea has a very romantic air about it. In fact, the spirit of Christmas in Korea is a lot like Valentine’s Day except with tinsel and holly instead of red hearts and chocolate.
Bottom line: the streets will be swarming with couples during Christmas -- single folks be warned.
2. It’s more like New Year’s Eve.
Young people go out to party during Christmastime and spend New Years with their family, which is the reverse of how these respective holidays are celebrated in the West. GD and TOP apparently went club-hopping in Hongdae during Christmas.
So now you know the Christmas norm in Korea: You go out. You don’t stay in.
3. Shop till you drop.
4. There is no eggnogg!
Kdramas never talk about this! (That is why you have us, dear readers). If you’re planning to prepare a traditional Christmas feast, I encourage you to give up. Items like turkey, cranberry sauce, fruitcake, eggnog, and other staple Christmas dishes are very difficult to find. And even if you find these holiday foods in some obscure specialty shop in the corner of a fancy-schmansy department store’s grocery section, it will be ridiculously expensive.
5. They don’t go all out...
On decorations that is. If you’re used to the ceremonial lighting of Christmas trees or neighbors trying to outdo each other with blow-up Santas taking over their lawn, you are bound to be disappointed. In Korea, Christmas lights and festivities are not so pervasive. People don’t buy real Christmas trees - mostly just small plastic ones. You will be hard-pressed to find a satisfying selection of ornaments at E-Mart, Korea’s Walmart equivalent.
But if you really want the lights and Christmas hoopla to satisfy your holiday spirit, you can always try to go to a Korean amusement park where you will surely find Christmas trees, adults dressed as Santa’s elves, and a skating rink.
6. It’s not that big of a deal.
Koreans celebrate Christmas, but in the end: Chuseok pwns Christmas.