Friday, 2 January 2015

Christmas in Korea

I feel like I already talked about Christmas traditions in Korea, but it bears repeating so I'll say it again: It's very different.

As far as I can tell, it's a commercial holiday. (Even more so than at home ;p) Historically, it's not a Christian country, so they have no reason to cherish it the way we do. It's a holiday shipped over from the US, like many things here, with a romanticised spin thrown over it so that it's mostly about spending quality time with your other half. Think of it as December Valentine's Day. Or just...December Sales Day where everyone conveniently has the day off.

It's not a big family event where people from all over the place gather to eat a lot of food. They have Chuseok for that! If anything, couples might exchange gifts whilst on a cute date, or parents might give their child a gift but according to my co-teacher that's where the line is drawn. It's not a gift-heavy occasion and even then it's quite often just money.

Because of this, there's also a distinct lack of Christmas decorations to be found. Sure, a lot of the shops we go to and big stations we visit have a tree set up somewhere, and a lot of cafes have snowflake decals and wreaths up on the windows and walls. But I'm yet to see big strings of lights everywhere in shopping areas, and extravagant window-dressing like at home. I'm not sure if I'm sad or happy about this.

When Nick was talking to his students about Christmas and Christmas Songs, they touched on the topic of Christmas carols. As far as they were concerned, any old Christmas song from the 80's and 90s is a Christmas carol. Ah, yes, All I Want For Christmas Is You, that age-old traditional Christmas carol by Anon. Actually, I don't think I heard a single actual carol. Maybe Silent Night, but with a modern cover and with a very different vibe to the quiet, solemn piece you usually hear in the streets.

Then there's the fact we barely had a break for Christmas. December 25th, that's it. No more, no less. We were in school right up until Christmas Eve, and back in the classroom bright and early on Boxing Day. So it kind of didn't sink in that Christmas had come until I was lying in bed on the 25th wondering why I wasn't in school on a Thursday. Usually there's a lot of build-up. The traditional adverts start to pop up, decorations stretch as far as the eye can see, and you can usually see trees dressed and lovely in living room windows. Music pumps out of stores everywhere and people start to ask you about your plans for the holiday. Christmas food is all over the place, people are frantically buying gifts and wrapping paper, and everyone busts our their favourite hideous sweater. Even most work places tend to have decorations and I remember well all of the Christmas-themed activities we'd do in school every year for the last few weeks of term.

But there was none of that, and it was a little bit confusing and jarring, even for me, the self-proclaimed Scrooge.

Anyway, of the many (MANY) things left behind by our apartment's previous tenants (the place has been the home of our school's Guest English Teachers for several years now) one of the more welcome ones was a little Christmas Tree and a box of decorations.

When December 1st hit, we shuffled around some furniture and set it up in the corner, along with some fairy lights we bought in Daiso for the dirt-cheap price of 5000원.

Candle c/o Katlyn~
I think these things really helped create a Christmas vibe in the apartment and helped keep at bay the slight lonely feelings that had started to creep in.

Another great thing, before this blog post is all doom and gloom, is the fact that also on December 1st, we had snow! Nothing too drastic, but there was snow on the ground and falling from the sky, and it's a lot more than I can usually say about the UK!

It snowed on and off for a few days, and I started to hope for a White Christmas, but alas it was just frosty. Not bad for December, though!

Christmas Eve ended up being very fun, thanks to a surprise cake from 형미 언니 and all manner of little gifts and cards from home and Nick's school.

Armed with cake and the warmth of the ondol, we turned off the lights, curled up on the sofa and had a traditional well-timed viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Sadly, we fell asleep possibly before we were even halfway through the film, and upon waking up after midnight decided we were too old for this and just went to bed properly. There's always next year :p

Strangely enough, we didn't actually sleep in too late, and ended up going downstairs to open presents at about 7am.

The cutest Christmas picnic I've ever been on.
Armed with each other's presents (technically 12 each, which had to be bought on a strict budget), we exchanged gifts one by one and it was really fun!

K-pop socks feat. all my biases <3
Mugs galore, and 2 new copics for my growing collection! 14 year old me is exploding rn
These are most of Nick's gifts, cutely arranged. That tie has the Arirang embroidered onto it~
And for me? Body Shop, Kpop, Starbucks, Pepero, and a new uke to play! We've called her Cassiopeia ㅋㅋㅋ 
We ate some more cake, had a nap, watched some TV before realising we hadn't planned anything for dinner. If we'd had an oven I'd have probably at least made some roast veg but seeing as the last time we tried it took many hours via toaster oven for some subpar carrots, that wasn't really an option. Sob.

I suggested going to an English restaurant but they're pretty thin on the ground here, and would require going into Seoul on a busy holiday. No thanks.

We opted for a visit to our favourite burger place in Incheon, GrabaB (Thanks again to Katlyn for the rec!) and tried to make up for it with beef, bacon, and cheese. And potatoes! (It kind of works, right?) Before following it all up with a nice traditional game of House of the Dead on their PS3, complete with magic gun controllers. Sweet.

I'm quite happy that it didn't snow, because actually the weather was mild enough (especially compared to the days before and after) that we could take a little walk and get some fresh air, which is all too easy to avoid when it's super cold out and you have nowhere to go.

Unusual: I kept eating the cake and there was MONEY inside! Nicely wrapped in a little plastic envelope with a note card, we were curious to know who it was from. Turns out it's a Nelson Mandela quote! How odd.

I wrapped up by Skyping my family and watching them open their presents from me, which was lovely because I never get to buy them anything and it was exciting to see that they liked them a lot.

Back to school for now, though!

Merry (belated) Christmas 2014!

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