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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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Sanitised Santa

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, podcasts by 노강호 on December 20, 2009

A few years ago, I read an article about how one large city in Canada recruits and trains Father Christmas employees almost a year before they are employed. The Father Christmases are stringently vetted and then undergo training to make sure they are ‘politically correct’ in  behaviour and communication and have been upgraded to whatever latest jargon is on the PC agenda. You know what it’s like: one minute they’re fussing over how wicked it is to say ‘Afro-Caribbean’ instead of ‘African Caribbean,’ or reminding us how insulting it is to use the term ‘brainstorm,’  but all of them use the term ‘Chinese New Year‘ instead of ‘Lunar New Year.’ At least if you’re an African-Caribbean wickedly called an ‘Afro-Caribbean,’ half of this term is correct. At least you’ve been located in the correct continent but if you’re Japanese, Korean or  Thai, et al, ‘Chinese New Year’ totally ignores your culture. So, banned by the PC  police from asking small children what ‘mummy and daddy’ are going to buy them for Christmas, the potential Father Christmases have to ask what ‘mummy or daddy, or their guardian or carer ‘ are going to buy them. Next, they are trained not to make any form of physical contact with children and to make sure that when with children, they are in full view of other adults. I would imagine they are forbidden from putting hands in their pockets as they too probably have to be in constant full view of parents, carers, guardians and the hidden security camera installed to safeguard companies.  And the ride on Santa’s knee  or parked in his lap? Most definitely out!  Another aspect of childhood poisoned and perverted by the PC lobby!

Sanitised Santa

Such a process, vetting, training seminars etc, for several hundred Father Christmases is no doubt expensive but, I might have just the solution. I discovered this Santa on a cross-road outside a 24 hours store in Daegu. This automated Father Christmas is perfect for working with children. He can be stored away with his companions and brought out a week before needed; no vetting, no seminars and no law suits.

The Korean Santa will put all fears to rest. First, other than the ability to make a ridiculous chuckle, he is mute. Gone are the worries that a pervy Santa might upset a child by using un-politically correct terms or worse, mouth or mutter obscene suggestions. And the plastic, toothless mouth, apart from smelling pleasant is incapable of licking, kissing or pouting. Being mute, the Korean Santa can be employed from Baghdad to Boston with no worry about foreign languages. Fixed to the spot by a small plinth, he cannot run away and is permanently available for questioning, stoning or lynching, should the need arise.

Being thin, any potential caverns or hidey holes made possible by overhanging bellies and large tunics  are removed. The Korean Santa is incapable of hiding kiddies, or swiftly pulling  even the smallest of them under his tunic.  While The Korean Santa can move his hips and arms, albeit it in a rather jerky and amusing manner, almost as if  stricken by BSE (Mad Cow Disease), such movements are small and limited and minimise and prevent any possibility of hands slipping onto, or groping in, those places they shouldn’t. And the final and most significant advantage is that the standing posture not only makes the need for a  grotto redundant but avoids the possibility that some children might actually enjoy sitting on Santa’s lap.

And packet-less!

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