Christmas traditions in South Korea

In addition to spending time recently with Chiara, I have also had the pleasure of chatting with Linda Choi and five Korean college students from Seoul, South Korea. The students are currently are in the United States as exchange students, and will be spending Christmas in America for the first time.

christmas ball
photo credit: mlamprou

:: What is your favorite Christmas memory from home?
Linda: Traditionally, we hold a Christmas Eve parade with the Virgin Mary and other nativity figures. Many characters dress in costumes and sing onstage individually or in groups. Another tradition is to go from house to house with candles, visiting friends and family.

College students: We enjoy going to church with family.

:: What kinds of Christmas decorations are displayed in your country?
Linda: There is usually a large Christmas tree in a central location where everybody can enjoy it. Decorative lights are also displayed for the public.

:: What are some foods you make/eat at Christmas time?
Linda: We eat basic Korean food…barbequed meat with rice and vegetables, and rice cakes.

:: What do you think is the strangest Christmas tradition in the United States?
Linda: For a long time Koreans did not celebrate Christmas. About 100 years ago, Christian missionaries brought the message and traditions of Christmas to the Korean people. It is still pretty strange for many Koreans to see the Christmas traditions in America, but because I was born here, I am more used to it.

College students: All of the outside decorations are strange because in Korean cities, people live mainly in apartments. There is not a lot of outside space for decorations, although we do decorate indoors with trees and other things.

:: What is the Christmas music in your culture like?
Linda: Christian Korean music has more of a percussion/vocal focus. It is simpler than what one might find in a contemporary American church—a typical musical arrangement might include a choir and accompanying drums.

:: Are there any traditions that you have brought with you to the United States?
Both Linda and the college students I interviewed said that they are looking forward to the Christmas Eve church service. Linda’s father was a pastor and she grew up in the church, so the Korean church that she is currently a part of is very dear to her heart. This is the college students’ first Christmas spent in America, so they are looking forward to the experience.

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