Christmas in Korea
If you ask a Korean person what comes to mind when they hear the word Christmas, they will also say things such as, gifts, Santa Claus, Christmas lights, snow etc. However, there are also many interesting differences in the way that Koreans celebrate Christmas, which make it quite unique!
A Holiday for Couples?
The overall atmosphere of Christmas in Korea is that “couples are winners; singles are losers” (which is not true at all, of course!). There’s even a popular saying that’s often used during the Christmas season, “커플지옥, 솔로천국” which means “All couples to hell! All singles to heaven!”. This saying is not as threatening as it may sound as it’s used playfully among singles to show their envy towards couples.
So why such a focus on relationships during Christmas? This all happens because on Christmas Day in Korea, most couples go out on their fanciest dates, visit romantic venues, and spend the night together from Christmas Eve till Christmas Day. This can often be surprising to visitors from other countries, where Christmas is supposed to be for families. Of course, this doesn’t mean that families in Korea do not celebrate Christmas; it just isn’t considered as important as it would be in many other countries.
No one is sure how this way of celebrating Christmas started in Korea but, interestingly, one of the most popular and influential Christmas movies in Korea is the British romantic-comedy “Love Actually” as its romantic storyline about couples is so fitting with the way Koreans view Christmas.
The Religious Celebration of Christmas in Korea
Many visitors to Korea are often shocked at the number of Christian churches and chapels that exist. However, the religious atmosphere for celebrating Christmas is not as dominate as it is in many other countries. Instead of large nativity scenes and elaborate services, Christmas celebrations by Korean churches are largely much more low-key and private. So, unless you attend a Christmas Service at a church while in Korea, it’s not that common to witness Christmas celebrated religiously.
What About Christmas Meals?
Honestly, there’s not much cooking done in Korea specifically for Christmas, as it’s far more common for people to go out to eat. However, there is one food tradition that’s very popular in Korea, Christmas Cakes. In fact, Christmas Cakes are so popular that Christmas day is one of the busiest and most profitable days for bakeries and cafes in Korea!
Christmas expressions in Korean
- 메리 크리스마스! (Merry Christmas!)
The easiest to learn greeting used in Korea during the Christmas season is simply the Korean phoneticized version of the English greeting “Merry Christmas!”.
- 크리스마스! 잘 보내세요! (Have a good Christmas!)
The expression “잘 보내세요” isn’t just limited to being used with Christmas; in fact it can be used for any holiday or even for simply saying, “Have a good weekend!”
(X) + 잘 보내세요!
Have a good (X)!
- 추석 잘 보내세요! (Have a good Chuseok!)
Chuseok is a major harvest festival and holiday in Korea; it is often referred to as being like a “Korean Thanksgiving”.
- 주말 잘 보내세요! (Have a good weekend!)
- 즐거운 성탄절 되세요! (Have a Merry Christmas!)
While this expression may look similar to the previous ones, this is a Christmas greeting that’s fully in Korean. The word 성탄절 is the Korean word for Christmas, literally meaning: “the day that Jesus was born”.
Like the phrase 잘 보내세요 above, you can also use 즐거운 … 되세요 in many ways. For example, ‘vacation’ in Korean is 연휴. So if you knew that someone was going on a long vacation you could say, “즐거운 연휴 되세요!” (Have a nice vacation!).