Wearing warm sweaters, decorating a tree, and having a special dinner with family and friends are some of the common ways to celebrate the special holiday that is Christmas – at least in America. However, not everyone celebrates the same way.
Though Christmas is a religious holiday for Christians, for many Americans it is more of a celebration of having family and friends close and buying presents for each other. In Korea, however, it is less about families and more about couples and having a good time. Presents are also less important.
As soon as Halloween ends here in Southern California, stores immediately start preparing for Christmas by setting up the aisles with trees, lights, and other decorations. The streets begin to fill with bright lights strewn beautifully across the roofs of buildings and homes. Christmas music can be heard on various radio stations and in stores. Families even fly across state lines, and sometimes across the whole continent, to spend time with family members they have not seen in a long time.
All of this shows how important of a holiday Christmas is for Americans.
However, Christmas in Korea is known more as a special day for couples, who spend it together rather than with family. “Usually we don’t spend time with family on Christmas, but with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or friends,” said Sun Hyoung Kim, from Seoul, in an interview with the Korean Insider.
“In fact,” Kim continued, “it is more famous as a day for couples. They have special dates for Christmas. It is considered as one of the most romantic days of year.”
In America, everyone knows to do Christmas shopping early. This is because desired products can be scarce, and also because the majority of stores close on the big day so that employees can celebrate Christmas. In Korea, however, things are different.
“[Unlike in the United States, in Korea] all the stores open on Christmas day and they make so much profit,” said Seol Paek, a Korean native living in Southern California.
Paek added, “There is no tradition of buying gifts for family or friends on Christmas in Korea. Maybe for significant others.” Though shopping trends are different, one similarity between Korean Christmas and American Christmas is the way the churches celebrate. “Churches celebrate Christmas just like Americans,” said Paek, who mentioned that churches do caroling in both places.“As a Christian,” she said, “I celebrate Christmas at church with my church members. Even after moving to America, I go to church on Christmas Day but I spend time with my boyfriend on Christmas Eve.”
In Korea, Christmas is often spent by going for dinner or drinks with friends and enjoying each other’s company. The Koreans who celebrate Christmas do it with a different style than is typical in America.“Usually I spend Christmas with friends,” said Gugji Yang, who is from Goyang. “People go to some events or eat delicious food and shop. Most people drink a lot.”“[Our celebration is] not like America’s. [There is] no big Christmas tree in my home and no fancy Christmas light decoration outside of my house,” said Yang, “but the street has a lot of lights and a Christmas tree in the square.”
Perhaps one of the reasons people in Korea don’t decorate their homes like we do here in America is because it is very common for Koreans to live in apartments and many apartments don’t have roofs or windows that residents can freely decorate.
“I think people usually live in an apartment so they don’t decorate with Christmas lights outside,” Yang explained. “If they decorate, they usually do it inside.”
This year, Yang says she plans to celebrate Christmas with her boyfriend who lives here in California. Yet unlike Americans, who may plan flights months in advance or take weeks preparing everything from their dinners to their presents and their outfits, Koreans see this as a day to go out and have some fun.
“I don’t have any special plan for Christmas this year,” said SeoYeon Jo, who is from Seoul. “On Christmas day we often go to a fancy restaurant and go to a movie theater, or drink.” “We do the same things as when we meet friends [on a normal day],” Jo concluded.
So whether in America or Korea, it is clear that everyone has their own style for celebrating Christmas. Americans may celebrate on a larger scale, but Christmas in South Korea is a day for anyone to spend some time with people close to them and enjoy their company.
By Genesis Miranda