Christmas is a holiday in Korea, but it isn’t as celebrated as the other holidays like Chuseok (Thanksgiving) or Seollal (lunar new year). On my first year in Korea, my husband sent me to the Philippines to be with my family. He had the chance to celebrate the holidays in the Philippines and he knew that we it’s the biggest event for the Filipino families.
While I enjoy being with my family in the Philippines for Christmas, it also felt odd being away from my husband. In our nine years of marriage, I’ve been outside Korea for the holidays only three times.
Christmas in Korea is cold and different, but it isn’t less meaningful than the Christmases I had in the Philippines or the US. What I love about celebrating here is that I don’t need to follow traditions. Instead, we make our own traditions.
How do we celebrate Christmas then? The only time I prepared “noche buena” was on my first Christmas here. I bought paella, cake and chicken from Costco with my friend Anna. We even saw Andre Kim (the late designer) hoarded cheesecake into two carts on Christmas eve of the year 2004. The following year, I didn’t prepare noche buena anymore. My husband and I just spent the night in Jongro, where the atmosphere was cold yet festive.
From that time on, Christmas meant joining the crowd in Jongro, Myeongdong and Seoul Plaza. Myeongdong is especially crowded on Christmas eve with the young revelers as well as the religious visiting Myeongdong Cathedral.
Christmas here means less food for noche buena, less money spent on gifts as we don’t usually exchange presents. I don’t decorate our home with Christmas ornaments. Does it really “feel” like Christmas then? Of course it does.
I love our Christmas here in Korea. It’s less commercialized and we could focus on the more important things. I don’t feel like I need to buy everyone I know a present to appreciate them. A simple call or greeting is enough. I learn to be satisfied and thankful with what I have. I don’t feel like something is lacking.
This year, my family celebrated Christmas just a little earlier. We went to Everland last November and we had such a great time that it felt like Christmas day! We also sent our Christmas presents to our favorite charities. Tonight, we would just have our Christmas cake as it’s freezing cold outside. On Christmas day, we will go to our favorite buffet restaurant and catch a movie afterwards ;p