Elwood 5566

A Christmasless Christmas in Korea

Posted in customs, Diary notes by 노강호 on December 25, 2011

A thousand Santas and not one mince pie, yule log or Brussels sprout!

It’s cold and icy. Sometimes it even snows. From every cafe and on every street corner the sounds of Christmas meander on bitingly cold puffs of wind; Bing Crosby, Mario Lanza, Jim Reeves, Slade and most other Christmas carols or pop ‘hits’ are aired.  The only genre missing are those of English cathedral choirs such as King’s College, Cambridge whose traditions and crystalline tones have become such an integral part of the English Christmas landscape. Instead, between Lanza and Reeves are Korean renditions ruthlessly ruined by kiddies’ voices that are a quarter tone flat or hysterical on helium. To subject ‘In the Bleak Mid Winter’ to vocals laced with helium is sacrilegious but then when it comes to traditional carols I’m a purist and prefer not just King’s College but the descants of Sir David Willcocks.   Then there are the Christmas trees, twinkling lights and tinsel and occasionally you even see a Korean Father Christmas, even the fattest of whom look like they need a good meal! From a distance there is a sense of the approach of Christmas and sometimes a melody evokes a fleeting anticipation of the pleasures associated with that most celebrated part of the western calendar.

Merry Christmas!

But when such memories are stirred, they are quickly doused by the reminder that however Christmassy it might feel, it is in effect Christmassless! Christmas in Korea joins the numerous contradictions such as school vacations that aren’t vacations, the final exam that is never final but a prelude to the next batch of tests or the public holiday which falling on a weekend, as it does this year, isn’t a holiday at all. However much it might feel like Christmas, it isn’t! There is no over-indulgence, no sumptuous feasts and Boxing Day, which is unknown in Korea, is a normal working day.

It looks like Christmas, sounds like Christmas, but there's nothing Christmassy about it!

Koreans excel at the melodies, tinsel, silly reindeer antlers and gaudy fake Christmas trees barren of real baubles or chocolate figurines. But no matter how jolly one is hailed with a ‘merry Christmas’, the absence of a holiday, the absence of a genuine festive spirit, the absence of Christmas pudding, mince pies, mistletoe, holly, yule logs (especially chocolate ones),  simply conspire to depress me! Role on the lunar new year!

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©이동철 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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