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Christmas in Korea

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Christmas Lights in Korea

Christmastime in Korea

Ming-yen Hsu

Christianity is relatively new to Asia, but today about 30% of the South Korean population is Christian. Christmas (Sung Tan Jul) is celebrated by Christian families and is also a public holiday (even though Korea is officially Buddhist). Korea is the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday.

Christmas Traditions

Korean Christians celebrate Christmas similar to the way it's celebrated in the West, but since it's primarily a religious holiday in Korea, there is considerably less fanfare and presents. Some families do put up Christmas trees, people exchange presents, and stores do put up holiday decorations, but the festivities start much closer to Christmas day. Families may attend mass or a church service on Christmas Eve or Christmas day (or both), and caroling parties are popular for young Christians on Christmas Eve.

Grandpa Santa is popular with kids in Korea (Santa Harabujee) and he wears either a red or blue santa suit. Kids know him as a happy grandfather figure who gives out presents, and stores employ Santas to greet shoppers and hand out chocolate and candies. People in Korea usually exchange presents on Christmas Eve and instead of piles of presents, one present (or a gift of money) is customary.

Christmas Meals and Christmas Day

Some families celebrate Christmas with meals and gatherings at homes, but Koreans also celebrate Christmas by going out. Restaurants are busy on Christmas, as it is considered a romantic holiday for couples, and theme parks and shows have special Christmas events. Many younger people celebrate and party on Christmas with friends and spend New Year's Day with their families (the reverse to Christmas/New Year's in the West). For non-Christian Koreans, Christmas is a popular shopping day.

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