Christmas in Korea

About Christmas in Korea

♦ It’s not a big deal. Sadly.

 It’s not so much a “family holiday” and more so a “couples holiday”. Kind of like Valentine’s Day – you exchange gifts with your significant other, go out to a nice, romantic dinner, etc. And of course, it’s another excuse to wear matching outfits. Because Korean couples love to wear matching outfitsFor any and all occasions and non-occasions.

 According to my verbal survey of asking “who celebrates Christmas?” in each of my classes, about 20% of Koreans (or 5 out of 35ish students…I added a few to make up for my mute students) celebrate Christmas. Apparently only about half the population of Korea is religious at all – and of that half, 50ish% are Buddhist and 50ish% are Christian. Oh and don’t quote me on that, this is mostly just what I’ve been told and observed. Most of them are still fairly familiar with most of the Christmas figures/traditions – Santa, reindeer, stockings, tree, lights, etc.

 90% of housing in Korea = Apartments = No Christmas lights on houses. Although some of the downtown shopping areas have been decorated with lights since November (much more extravagantly in Seoul, might I add.)

Source: SeoulBeats

Source: SeoulBeats

 You get one day off of work (Christmas Day), if you get time off of work at all. Most Asian countries don’t recognize Christmas as a national holiday, so as teachers, we’re lucky to even get the one day.

 Starbucks is the best place to go to get into the Christmas spirit. They don’t have Eggnog Lattes or Peppermint Mochas, but they have a “Christmas Cookie Latte” which is equally as delicious. I suspect it’s more or less the same as a Gingerbread Latte.

 And then there’s this:

Penguin March at Everland Amusement Park in Yongin, South Korea. Source: CNN

Penguin March at Everland Amusement Park in Yongin, South Korea. Source: CNN

Which I can’t decide is ridiculously cute or just horrible (cuz you know, animal cruelty and all that).

Okay, it’s pretty fricken cute. These little guys supposedly don’t mind marching openly around a zoo dressed in Christmas costumes while thousands of Koreans snap their picture. But seriously, how adorable are they?

Overall, Christmas in Korea is more about celebrating the birth of Jesus (if you’re religious) or is otherwise just a Valentine’s Day type of holiday. It doesn’t have that wonderful mass-consumerism, capitalistic nature that we have in Western society (namely the US) so it’s a lot more mellow. Restaurants are packed, shopping areas are crowded, Christmas music is blasted throughout the downtown areas and people seem a bit more cheerful :).

Christmas in North Korea

While their constitution states that people have the freedom of religion, North Korean authorities will still imprison, beat or execute people for practicing Christianity, celebrating Christmas or owning a bible. An estimated 100,000 Christians in North Korea will go to “underground churches” to practice their religion secretly. Instead of Christmas, most North Koreans will celebrate the birth of Kim Jong Il’s mother, King Jong Suk. (Source: Time World, Christian News Wire)

So while people in America are trampling each other to buy discounted Christmas presents for themselves, people in North Korea are risking their lives to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. Just sayin.

And in order to not end on such a dreary, depressing note – thank you God and Baby Jesus for SKYPE and making me almost feel like I was at home yesterday with my beautiful family 🙂


  1. I agree. The penguin thing is kind of creepy cute at the same time. Glad you got to skype with your family. I’m sure it helped you get in the Christmas spirit a bit.


  2. Same thing in Spain! No houses with Christmas lights, only apartments with balconies. I LOVE the lights in Seoul you showed, though! Hope you had a great Christmas!


  3. I’m glad you managed to skype with everyone! 🙂 I always found 6 hours of time difference crazy, I can’t imagine how you manage it with more.


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