Christmas in Korea

Working in a non-Christian country can be difficult during traditional Christian holidays.  Christmas in particular is difficult, as most of us are used to a break of some sort over the holiday season.  Not in Ulsan!  It’s a good thing Christmas was on a Sunday, or I might have had to work!  As it was, school didn’t finish until Dec. 27th, and then I started teaching 3 weeks of English Camp on Dec. 28th.   Do I need to add that I’m counting the days until my vacation starts on Jan. 18th? 😀

Wikipedia claims that almost 30% of Koreans are Christian.  With that surprisingly high number in mind, I looked forward to spending Christmas in Korea.  (If I couldn’t go home, I might as well make the best of it!)

Either Wikipedia had it wrong, or very few of those Christians live in Ulsan.  I put up Christmas lights (the picture is in my last post) in my apartment but I think my neighbours thought I’d opened a disco.  Mine were the only lights I saw, other than these in the school lobby. I thought the fish looked quite festive but I was a bit puzzled by the mangy bears and cotton ball piles under the tree.

At school I taught Christmas carols.  My co-teachers handed out the lyrics so the students could sing along.  I did wonder what would happen if the school had a foreign teacher who wasn’t Christian.  Would they have to teach Christmas carols?  And would they be allowed to teach about whatever their important holidays were?

The handouts looked a bit like this:

“You better watch out    유 베터 워치 아웃
You better not cry    유 베터 낫 크라이
Better not pout     베터 낫 파우트
I’m telling you why 아임 텔링 유 와이
Santa Claus is coming to town    산타 클로스 이즈 커밍 투 타운

At first I assumed that the lyrics had been translated for the students so they would understand the song.  I was also impressed by how well they could read.  But when the students sounded a bit… off, I looked closer and realized that the lyrics had been written in Korean.  Instead of singing English Christmas songs, the students were merely reading the Korean approximation of what the English should sound like!

They sounded a little like this:

“Yu bet-tah oo-atchee ah-oo-tuh,
Yu bet-tah nah-tuh kuh-ra-ee
Bet-tah nah-tuh pa-oo-tuh
Ah-eem terring yu wa-ee
Santa kuh-ro-suh ee-juh kah-ming tu ta-oon”
(Read it out loud for the full Korean experience!)


Christmas Eve, I did a little shopping.  The grocery store was deserted but there was a line down the road at the bakery!  Everyone wanted to buy their Christmas cake.  Christmas cake in Korea is not the nasty rum-soaked fruitcake that we have in the West.  It’s cake the way cake should be!  Several layers, lots of icing, fruit and frolicking snowmen on the top – delicious! 🙂

I stopped for coffee and noticed that even my coffee was in the Christmas mood!

I met some friends for dinner in old downtown.  Little did we know that Christmas Eve would be total mayhem.  The normally busy pedestrian shopping area was jam-packed.  There were street vendors and buskers, an extremely loud concert and Santa in an inflatable snow globe.There was even a boxing demonstration.  Nothing says Happy Christmas like a bloody nose!

In honour of the “Happy Snow Festival,” fake snow was falling from the ceiling.  At first I thought it was beautiful.  Then I realized that unlike the fake snow on ski hills, this snow didn’t melt.  It was strange, creepy fake snow.

The kids didn’t seem to mind though.  They played in it, threw snowballs at each other and tried to make tiny snowmen.  There was about an inch of snow accumulated on the ground in front of the fire station.  That didn’t seem like the ideal location to have children frolicking in slippery fake snow but I have learned not to question things like this.  Koreans have an entirely different outlook on safety.

We finished the evening with a festive drink before going home to wait for Santa.

I spent Christmas Day volunteering at an orphanage.  The kids were very happy to receive presents from Santa! It was a lovely way to spend a Christmas away from my family.


About Carrie K

Teacher, writer, traveller. Slightly neurotic. Overly talkative. Loving life. You can also follow me on Twitter: kimchigirl72
This entry was posted in Korea, Taehwa, teaching in Korea, Travel, Ulsan, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Christmas in Korea

  1. Jonny says:

    Hey Carrie – great post and really made me appreciate my slightly more festive though obviously not normal Christmas here in Dubai. Take care and keep up the interesting blog 🙂

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