Christmas 2012 will be my 4th Christmas in South Korea. Celebrating Christmas in a country that doesn’t has made me look at and celebrate the occasion differently.
Being from Ireland, Christmas is all about family. Every year we’d all gather together and eat Christmas dinner and exchange gifts. It was the big clean before the decorations went up and the fight over who got to decorate the tree. When we were young it was about getting up at ridiculous o clock to see what Santa brought and in more recent years it was about eating as many roses as was humanly possible.
If I was looking for a Christmas celebration similar to home, I certainly picked the wrong country! Christmas doesn’t really exist in Korea the same as it does in Ireland. Korea, being a Confucianist country doesn’t celebrate Christmas as a holiday. It’s there but it’s not. Coffee shops have their special Christmas coffees, the buses are decorated with fairy lights and tinsel, there are ads on tv for the Christmas sales in some stores.
But for children, it means nothing more than a few days off school. Santa doesn’t bring gifts here which I found out to my utter amazement my first Christmas when I asked what Santa was bringing. They understand that if they get gifts, it will be from Mum and Dad. Saying that however, they do know who Santa is. My school, for example will get a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve. But he contains none of the magic that he does for the children in Ireland and other such countries.
My first Christmas away from home was 2009 and I stayed in Korea. I had only just arrived in September so I neither had the know how or finances to take a vacation. My friends and I simply made lots of different dishes from back home and ate dinner together followed by movies, games and the whole thing was very similar to how I would spend it in Ireland. Opening the presents however, was the worst part. You can’t thank anyone for their presents when they’re miles away. My little cousins drew little pictures for my apartment which caused a few tears. Looking back, that first Christmas was quite a lonely experience. Even though I spent it with friends, it was the first time to be away from family for the holidays but it was a necessary part of the “character building” that comes with moving away. That first Christmas essentially set up my mind frame and the reality that I was away from home so Christmas was going to be one of those times when I had to think differently and celebrate it differently.
2010 brought the opportunity to be home for Christmas which was great.I was between contracts so spent September to December at home. I spent it with my family and we ate at my house and played cards and did all the random things that we only ever get to do at Christmas.
On Christmas Day 2011, I woke up in a floating cabin in Thailand. This time I felt none of the loneliness of being away from family. In fact, I barely registered that it was Christmas.I just wished a cheery “Happy Christmas” the same way I wish my friends a happy weekend. The weather in Korea is super cold in winter so a Christmas in the heat was exactly what was needed. I spent that Christmas riding elephants, petting tigers and floating up rivers on a bamboo raft. All with friends that I made on the tour and it was definitely one of the best Christmas I’ve ever spent. I returned to Korea with none of the doom and gloom that usually comes post-Christmas. Instead I was fully energised and ready to take on the Siberian cold again.
This Christmas, I’m heading to Guam with my friend.Its going to be full of hot weather, shopping for clothes that actually fit, eating regular food that doesn’t include rice for every meal and just generally chillaxing.
It’s been 2 years since I’ve been back to Ireland and I’ve now become so accustomed to not having a real Christmas that I haven’t done any real Christmas shopping so I fear my family will have to wait until January for presents!!!!! That being said, I’m looking forward to spending Christmas in an alternative way and see it as part of the experience of being away from home.
Happy and Safe Christmas! or in Korean 메리 크리스마스!