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A Couple’s Paradise: Christmas in South Korea

Did you know that South Korea has twelve days each year that celebrate (or mourn over, in the case of Black Day) love? And three of them are in December! 

While in Western cultures, people tend to associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus and time with family, most South Koreans perceive Christmas as a day for celebrating romance. In this article, you’ll learn about common South Korean traditions for Christmas, explore some of the most popular activities, and pick up some new vocabulary. 

Ready? Let’s go. 

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1. A South Korean Christmas

A Saint Bernard Dog Wearing a Christmas Hat in a Living Room with Christmas Decorations

Like many countries, South Korea has its own version of 크리스마스 (keuriseumaseu), or “Christmas,” celebrated each year on December 25. Christmas Day in South Korea has many similarities with that in other countries, though there are a few key differences. 

In South Korea, Christmas is less about the traditional story of Jesus’s birth and more about the holiday’s commercial aspects. The holiday is also heavily associated with romance and couples, as opposed to family.

Considering South Korea’s fairly large Christian population (anywhere from a quarter to a third of the population), some people view the holiday in its traditional religious light—though still not to the extent that people in the U.S. or many European nations do. 

2. Christmas Traditions in South Korea

South Koreans employ many of the same traditions and celebrations for Christmas as other countries do, though with a unique Korean twist. 

Valentine’s Day?

In most countries, Christmas means time with family. Well, the average Christmas celebration in South Korea is actually spent with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, and not one’s family. For this reason, Christmas is often viewed as another ‘Valentine’s Day.’

As advertising increases and special deals are made available, people spend a lot of time looking for the perfect 선물 (seonmul), or “present,” for their significant other. Popular gifts include romantic items, such as chocolate, wine glasses, or lingerie. In addition to gift-giving, couples often go on a romantic date together. This often consists of a meal at a nice restaurant, time spent doing outdoor winter activities, and a night spent in a hotel. Of course, some couples opt to stay indoors during Christmas, snuggled in front of the 벽난로 (byeognanro), or “fireplace.”

The romantic nature of a South Korean Christmas is so prominent that people tend to feel lonely or sad if they have to spend the holiday as a single person.

Christmas Food

The Christmas food in South Korea is far different from what people in the U.S. and other countries are used to. 

Instead of having special food items or meals for the holiday, many Koreans indulge in the popular wintertime foods. These are often found in stalls while walking the streets or in restaurants. These foods include plenty of porridges, soups, spicy foods, and bready foods. You can sometimes find Western-style Christmas meals in certain restaurants, especially those in larger cities.


Decorations 

As for Christmas decorations in South Korea, you’ll mainly find these in public areas and not in residential areas. Walking through the cities or towns, you’ll find many businesses, restaurants, and other public locations decorated with Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and the like.

Other Traditions

In South Korea, many children are told about 산타 클로스 (santa keulloseu), or “Santa Claus.” Like in Western cultures, it’s said that Santa will bring gifts to the good children and not to the bad children. Many children call him 산타할아버지 (santaharabeoji), which means “Grandfather Santa.”

Similarly, South Korean children grow up singing about 루돌프 사슴코 (rudolpeu saseumko), or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” during Christmas. A few other Western Christmas songs are popular here, though most of the time, radios play Christmas-themed Korean pop music.

Some children enjoy playing in the 눈 (nun), or “snow,” if they were lucky enough to have a Christmas snow. 

3. Seoul At Christmastime

Not surprisingly, Seoul is a hotspot during the Christmas season. Tons of top-notch restaurants, bars, and shops can be found here, and Christmas is the perfect occasion to check them out with friends—as long as you don’t mind crowds!

A few popular areas include Kang Nam, Shin Chon, Jam Sil, and Ap Gu Jeong. Make sure to visit one or two of these places for a great time! 


4. Essential Vocabulary for Christmas

A Snowman

Let’s review some of the key vocabulary words from this article!

  • 눈 (nun) – “snow” [n]
  • 눈송이 (nunsongi) – “snowflake” [n]
  • 크리스마스 (keuriseumaseu) – “Christmas” [n]
  • 선물 (seonmul) – “present” [n]
  • 썰매 (sseolmae) – “sled” [n]
  • 굴뚝 (gulttuk) – “chimney” [n]
  • 벽난로 (byeognanro) – “fireplace” [n]
  • 크리스마스 종 (keuriseumaseu jong) – “bell” [n]
  • 눈사람 (nunsaram) – “snowman” [n]
  • 산타 클로스 (santa keulloseu) – “Santa Claus”
  • 루돌프 사슴코 (rudolpeu saseumko) – “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
  • 순록 (sunnok) – “reindeer” [n]
  • 장식 (jangsik) – “decoration” [n]
  • 크리스마스 (Keuriseumaseu) – “Christmas Day”
  • 북극 (Bukgeuk) – “North Pole”
  • 크리스마스 양말 (keuriseumaseu yangmal) – “stocking” [n]
  • 겨우살이 (gyeousari) – “mistletoe” [n]
  • 과자집 (gwajajip) – “gingerbread house” [n]
  • 사탕 지팡이 (satang jipangi) – “candy cane” [n]
  • 화환 (hwahwan) – “wreath” [n]
  • 호랑 가시 나무 (horang gasi namu) – “holly” [n]
  • 꼬마 요정 (kkoma yojeong) – “elf” [n]

Remember that you can find each of these words, along with their pronunciation, on our list of Must-Know Christmas Day Vocabulary

Final Thoughts

Christmas in South Korea may not be exactly what one would expect, but it certainly possesses the warmth, excitement, and charm of Western Christmas celebrations. 

What are your thoughts on the South Korean version of Christmas? Would you ever like to visit for this special holiday? We look forward to hearing from you in the comments! 

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about Korean culture and the language, KoreanClass101.com has several more blog posts we think you’ll like:

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One more thing before we go: How do you say “Merry Christmas” in Korean?

메리 크리스마스 (meri keuriseumaseu!)

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