It's true that there are a massive amount of Christians in Korea. It's a true that Christmas is quite a significant holiday nowadays. It's true that the celebration of Jesus' birthday became a federal holiday before Buddha's birthday did. It's also true that Christmas is a marketing ploy for many businesses & as always is great for consumerism.
During the first week of December, here in Jeonju and other areas of Korea, you began to see Christmas lights outside of businesses and huge malls.. Christmas decorations.. Christmas music (in ENGLISH :) ).. Christmas cards.. and Dunkin Donuts had special Christmas donuts.
I began to chat with my students about what their plans were for Christmas the week before it.. and most of the responses were sort of gloomy if they didn't have a boyfriend/girlfriend. Here's the difference! For Koreans, Christmas is a 'couples' holiday.. as is many of their holidays and celebrations. For the most part, families do not get together to eat a Christmas lunch or dinner, they do not exchange presents and you don't hear 'Merry Christmas' every 5 seconds of the day.
Couples do these things though. Most of the Christmas cards for sale are about 'love'.. you go on a date with you boyfriend/girlfriend, and spend the day with them. If you don't have a special someone, then most people say they are "going to have Christmas with Kevin." Who is Kevin? Kevin McCallister.. you know.. the boy from Home Alone :). Sound depressing? It is for many! I enjoyed telling my students about how we celebrate in America.. because it sounds so exciting to me.. and normal!
In Korea, if your family attends church regularly (and when I say regularly.. I mean, going to church at 10AM.. and not being finished until practically dinner time.. intense!), then my students planned on going to church with their family and then going on their 'dates'.
Walking down a main pedestrian area in Jeonju, it just seems like any other day. A stark contrast to back home.. talking to one of my students who had studied in America for 4 years and had an uncle living in New York City.. he was telling me about how on Christmas day he went to explore NYC.. and it sucked! There wasn't even anyone there to take his picture in front of 'The Tree'.. Macy's was closed.. in the beginning, he told me a story about how he was looking for Macy's on the map, and a police car stopped to help him (I was thinking, wow.. that's strange for NYC.. there's always something crazy going on, rather than offering to help the thousands of tourists that are looking at maps... and that was when he tells me that it was Christmas day! .. and I understood!).
It was so cool going to the Christmas Eve party at my friend Dawn's, because you get a big group of foreigners together and all you hear is "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" and it never gets old, it just makes you a little happier.. because you've had withdrawals because you haven't heard it enough this year! We were decked out in our reds and greens, asking around to see who has cried already in anticipation of another Christmas without family! No one admitted to it. We brought food, exchanged gifts (which were put under a baby Christmas tree).. and it felt like Christmas all around suddenly!
(see.. I said Christmas so many times in this blog.. I'm still saying Merry Christmas a few days later!)
This is a mannequin at a Bean Sprout Soup restaurant near the University.. she bows when you walk by and says something.. she also normally has traditional clothes on ( a hanbok )... now she's sexy Mrs. Claus!!! hahaha