I guess I am used to spending Christmas away from home due to my previous slave like life in the hospitality industry. So I was prepared for Christmas in Korea. Christmas is a recognised holiday in Korea. I guess 29% of the population are christians so for some I imagine it is very important. To everyone else it seemed to just be another public holiday. Chuseok and Lunar New Year in February are the big “Korean” holidays. You get three days off for these holidays and Christmas is literally just the day. (Annoyingly Christmas was on a Saturday and they have no carry-over rule like we do back home, so I didn’t even get a day off work!).
The build up was odd. Most westernly established businesses did what western businesses do best and commercialise every ounce out of the festive period. Korean companies were not so crafty, or simply didn’t recognise it is an effective tool that there clientele would be wooed by. I think the most apparent way the South Koreans abused the Christmas idea for gain was to rile their neighbours in North Korea. They erected a huge faux-Christmas tree near the DMZ and border. It is the first time they have done it in eight years. It would be apparent that North Korea doesn’t support Christmas (I believe it has something to do with Kim, Joing-Il claiming to be the real messiah) and rumours of them trying to shoot it down resulted in the South Korean marines guarding the tree!
So the build up was weak. I didn’t feel particularly Christmassy. The most festive thing I did in the build up was attend an American tradition called a Yankee swap. Everyone buys a present that they anonymously place under the tree. You then draw lots and you proceed to all choose one present. However, inbetween someone choosing a new present you can choose to steal someone elses if you like theirs better. The round ends when everyone has chosen to steal or someone sticks with their gift. The next person chooses a gift and the stealing recommences. Once everyone has chosen and stolen one final round of thievery begins. I ended up with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red! Max a Korean guy ended up with a book called “Korean for dummies”. The irony. It was a lot of fun and it was a good boys night out. Everybody was in festive spirits and the thievery, elation, arguements and disappointment made for a great night.
On Christmas Day itself I went to a Basketball game. Changwon LG Sakers played Inchon Elephants. I used to dislike playing basketball at school. It interfered with me playing football. Additionally, I have never been to watch a game…or even watched one on TV. It was awesome. The game was exciting and competitive; but what really made it was the crowd. A packed out and festively fuelled arena made for an electric atmosphere. There were presents launched into the crowd by mascots, cheerleaders and hosts. I was under the impression that football chants ruled for atmosphere creation but basketball in Korea is equal if not better. It was insanely fun and I will definitely be going again.
After the basketball I went to I.P. a popular foreigner bar. I hooked up with some football friends and we enjoyed a free traditional Christmas meal! After this I headed home, watched a few films and some Christmas specials on BBC iplayer and skyped Kate who is now back in Russia 😦
Why Christmas sucked: Flu- in the week leading upto Christmas Day (horrific…all brought on by sneezey students) and missing family and girlfriend.
So Christmas is over and New Year is around the corner. NYE will be in Changwon I think; maybe Busan and then I am looking forward to some rest and relaxation in the Philippines with Kate from January 2nd to 9th. No doubt you will be made to feel jealous when you read my next post!