With the great number of diverse cultures present in the world, it is no wonder there are so many diverse Christmas traditions around the world. Holiday celebrations can vary widely from place to place; even within Montreal, the number of people I have spoken to talk of many and varied ways of celebrating their Christmas. I am from Ghana and Christmas in Ghana is very much different from what I am experiencing in Canada. First off, “Merry Christmas” in Ghana is “Afehyia pa!”
Let us talk about Christmas in Canada and Korea. I confirmed throughout my preparations for this post that Christmas celebrations are so diverse and filled with different beautiful cultures. In fact, one way one could actually learn and appreciate the cultures of others is to celebrate Christmas like the way they do. This year, I plan to celebrate Christmas in Montreal like it’s celebrated in Korea, which I will talk about shortly. I am, however, going to start with some of the similarities and differences between Korean Christmas and Canadian Christmas. By the way, “Christmas” in the Korean language is “Sung Tan Jul.”
According to Wikipedia, about 29.2% of Koreans are Christians. So I wasn’t so surprised when I found out that Korean Christmas celebrations are generally less elaborate compared to Canada. However, it is significant to note that Korea is the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday.
While I have personally received a lot of presents from my friends here in Montreal, I found out that Korean Christmas celebrations generally do not involve multiple gifts. It is more traditional in Korea to give a relative or close friend one thoughtful gift than several presents. Additionally, I have a Christmas tree with lights in my apartment even though I never had one in Ghana, and that is common in Montreal. Similarly in Korea, some families do put up Christmas trees and decorate them with lights, but that is not very common. Actually, Simon and Martina are a Canadian couple that moved to Seoul in 2008 and have been there ever since. They mentioned that they have not seen any Christmas trees in their neighbourhood. On their blog, they lament, “We’re really lacking the Christmas spirit, guise. It’s hitting us hard this year. We’re really missing our families, and snow, and gaudy Christmas decorations.”
Simon and Martina mention that generally in Korea, Christmas eve is “couples’ day for going out and it’s not really a family thing”. Restaurants are busy on Christmas and there are several Christmas events. Some families, however, do celebrate Christmas with meals and gatherings at home. Santa is popular with kids in Korea (Santa Harabujee) and he wears either a red or blue santa suit. Kids know him as a happy grandfather figure who gives out presents, and stores use Santas to greet shoppers and hand out chocolates and candies.
Now, let me end by giving out the 5 quick ways I learned about how to celebrate a “Koreanized” Christmas in Canada or wherever you are.
- Organize a carolling party on Christmas Eve.
- Limit the number of gifts to focus on the meaning behind them and not their materialism.
- Add Korean foods to the Christmas dinner menu.
- Learn how to say Merry Christmas in Korean – sung tan jul chuk ha haeyo.
- Attend Christmas religious services.