Christmas is a little different in Korea. For me, coming from Australia, it is very different.
Some people I talk to simply can’t understand that a cold Christmas would be strange for an antipodean, instead insisting that it’s strange for me to go home for the holiday and have to deal with a warm Christmas. I’m sure I’ll understand what they mean as I’m at the beach with my whisky in one hand and a lamb kebab in the other. Or at a friend’s place, with my whisky in one hand and my Risk 2210 A.D. dice in the other.
1. Christmas Carols
Or lack therof. Some places in Korea (mainly coffee chains) started playing Christmas carols during the last week of November. Some department stores do and some don’t. They are usually played at a decent level, so they don’t (usually) induce nausea or insanity. Besides, I’ve developed a resistance to
iocane powder Christmas carols after years of working in retail in one of Sydney’s biggest department stores.
2. No Secret Santa
This kinda flows from the lack of Christmas carols. Because Christmas is not as culturally pervasive in Korea is it is in some other countries, my office does not do a Secret Santa. Secret Santa is one of those weird institutions where you draw someone’s name from a hat and then go and by them something. There may be some name trading (perhaps you want to get your office crush a gift rather than that weird guy that keeps leering at you)There is usually a maximum price set (typically between $10 and $20). When I was in high school a girl drew my name and I got a Backstreet Boys single. I don’t remember what I got whoever I drew.
That being said, I think Korea would be a great place for Secret Santa. Have you seen all the cool stuff at Daiso?! The spending limit could be 5000 won and you’d still get decent gifts. Picture frames with stock photos of blonde-haired-blue-eyed people is what I’m talking about.
3. Post-Christmas Sales
Or lack thereof. Then again, every weekend looks like a Boxing Day Sale (‘Black Friday’ for Americans). What usually happens in Korea is that people flock to supermarkets and department stores to get last minute gifts for Seollal/Lunar New Year – I dare you to call it Chinese New Year here – and at Chuseok. I prefer not to call the latter Thanksgiving as most people would think of turkey dinners.
Sometimes it snows in Ulsan. It’s never snowed at Christmas but I’m never here on Christmas Day so I wouldn’t know. The last time it snowed in Ulsan I had to walk home since the roads were iced up, but this was in March so it was weird even for Ulsanites. The first time I saw snow I was pretty excited; we have to do fake snow back home. The first time I was outside and it snowed I wasn’t so excited.
I remember coming back to my apartment late one night after it had snowed for the first time in winter in 2008. There was maybe 3 cm of snow. Someone had made a miniature snowman and snowwoman since there wasnlt enough snow to make a fullsize Christmas movie snowman. The next day when I was walking to the kindergarten someone had taken the time to walk off the path and kick the snowman’s head off. Never forget.
5. Christmas Lights
This is from the Christmas Tree at the main gate of my work. Everywhere we have some lights strung up on this. This year, we have a star too!
Nearly all department stores have these kinds of decorations. Some of the best I’ve seen were at the Lotte Department Store in Jamsil.
I guess I get the best of both worlds: I’m in Sydney with enough time before Christmas to do the shopping I need to but not long enough for the Christmas carols to take a permanent toll on me. And I get back to Korea after the worst two weeks of winter weather, or so I’m told when I return with my golden tan.