Yes, there are some in Korea who celebrate Christmas. However, not the whole country. In Korea, Christmas is considered a Christian holiday. The Buddhists don’t celebrate it. Even the Christians don’t celebrate exactly the way the rest of the world celebrates it. E-Mart has Christmas decorations, but not many, and there will not be live trees for sale anywhere. The Christmas decorations at E-Mart were there the last two times we shopped. It seems a bit early, but perhaps the Christians in Korea are beginning to prepare for Christmas now.
To begin with, something most churches do in Korea is a Christmas service. Many people who consider themselves Christians in Korea spend Christmas day at church, not at home with their families like we do in America. They spend the day praising God, putting on Christmas plays, etc. I actually have never visited one of the Christmas services because the church I attend doesn’t have the Christmas service, and we are Americans, so we like to spend Christmas with our families. I only know what they tell me.
One year at Christmas, I was surprised because I was tutoring some little kids from the church in English, and I learned the mother didn’t even plan on putting up a Christmas tree much less buying gifts. As far as she was concerned, they weren’t going to bother with Christmas at all, and I felt bad for the kids. However, her husband had a different idea and surprised them all. On Christmas Eve, he dressed up as Santa and showed up at home with a bag of toys, one for each of the kids. I was so happy when I heard what happened!
One of the big things that happens at Christmas in Korea is every young couple must have a date, whether they are Christians or not. They think Christmas is a romantic holiday like Valentines Day. When I was teaching at the university, every young person wanted a boyfriend or a girlfriend by Christmas to celebrate with.
Today, we saw the Christmas decorations are here at E-Mart, Korea’s Wal-Mart. The section just seemed kind of thin to me. There were snow globes, some Christmas trees, and a few other decorations, and that was all. The store is so big that if it were in America, there would me many more decorations, but the Koreans just don’t think Christmas is that big of a holiday.
When I taught in the public schools here, the only day I got off for Christmas was Christmas day. I always had to work on Christmas Eve and got no days for preparing for Christmas at all. Teachers in America get a big part of December free, but not here in Korea. However, when I began teaching at the Christian university, as soon as the final tests were over and grades reported, whether is was the beginning of December or on December 24th, then we had vacation until the first of March because there are so many holidays in Korea during that time. As far as I was concerned, it was very welcome, not just because of Christmas, but also because when I taught in public schools, they didn’t like to use the heat during the winter months because if they use too much electricity, the electric companies double the bill, and the only heaters the schools had were electric heaters, so I was teaching class in a coat, and the students wore coats and blankets. At Korea Christian University, they just didn’t have class during that time and solved a lot of problems.
We actually began the Christmas parties at the church where we attend. We were the first ones to invite everyone to our house around Christmas time. One year, we all drew names, and another year, we brought gag gifts. We have had fun with them at Christmas. At times on Christmas, we all got together on Christmas day, bought groceries and gifts, and wrapped the gifts, and visited the poor taking the food and gifts to them and singing Christmas songs as we went. Last Sunday, as we were going home, a friend said to me, “Get ready because we are planning a Christmas party.”
When I taught at the university, I always tried to do something for the students in the English Department or for a particular class before Christmas. I would have Christmas parties, take them caroling which was new to them, bring Christmas cookies to give out, and decorate the English/Chinese Cafe. When I left, there were no more Christmas trees in the English/Chinese Cafe, no more Christmas cookies for the students, and no more Christmas parties.
I was really surprised that Christmas wasn’t bigger here because I have lived in several countries. The only ones who didn’t celebrate Christmas were the Muslims. Even the Japanese celebrate Christmas bigger than the Koreans, and a big part of their population is not Christian like here in Korea. They just like Christmas. The Japanese told me that Santa must come to visit all the Children in the world, and if there were kids in the family, there was always a Christmas tree and gifts. They thought it was a wonderful holiday! It has surprised me that Christmas is not bigger in Korea.