Christmas Presents in Korea

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas is relatively still a new holiday in Korea and it most Koreans do not go out and celebrate it with the same zeal as someone from Europe or America. Businesses have been trying to market the holidays as a major gift giving celebration time, but most Koreans have not taken the bait.

The most common gift given among friends during Christmas are Christmas cards. You will see stores all over Korea selling these cards and they are relatively cheap- usually 800 won to 1000 won. They will write a message and give them as a present and for most people this is a thoughtful and welcomed gift. I think this is pretty amazing because I gave a close friend a card in America as a gift, I would not have that friend anymore.

And speaking of Christmas cards, I just heard that if you are sending a Card overseas to a loved one, that the Korean post office will give you a discount on shipping. I think this is so adorable and it is one of the nice ways that Korea is trying to help the expatriate community celebrate the holidays. So if you have bills to mail home or even business letters be sure to send them in a Christmas Card so you can get the discount.

Now back to presents. If you really feel like you should get a Korean friend a present, these days getting a bottle of wine has become pretty popular. Other popular gifts are mittens, gloves, and scarves. Gift Certificates to established hotels are also much appreciated and last night I was in Myeongdong and I saw lots of people buying cellphone accessories-keychain like things as presents.

Young kids might get a present from Santa Claus in Korea, but usually that practice will end in the first or second grade and talk about lame gifts- usually they’ll get 1 gift and that gift isn’t something all too amazing. I’ve heard of kids getting socks, clothes, or a small toy. I should really thank my parents, because I would have thrown a fit if I only received one gift on Christmas day. Seriously, there would have been blood.

If you have students or have a cousin or niece, a candy cane or a cheap 1 or two thousand won toy might be enough. I promise, they won’t call you a Scrooge. Now that’s as long as they haven’t been westernized, hence, spoiled by the holiday.

Lights and public decorations have become popular in shopping districts, but these are more for advertising than for celebrating the holiday. And you should check out the lights around some of the major shopping districts in Yongsan and City Hall, there was a tree that I saw that was completely covered in lights. I mean each twig was even wrapped. Now these lights will probably stay up until at least February or March so you don’t have to worry that you’ll miss them unless you head out to see them this week or next.

Christmas Carols are popular on the radio, but not many people go caroling. The groups that might do this are church groups.

Christians will go to Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services and these will often have pageants. There are a large number of churches around the area. The largest church is in Gangnam called the “Love” Church and they often have Christmas services.
On Christmas Day, the most popular movie seems to be the Maculy Caulkin movie where he is left alone at home and has to defend himself from two burglars.

Most people will not decorate trees either. But there are places that will sell Christmas Trees. I’m going to do some research on that because one of our listeners told us that she dragged a 6-foot Christmas tree 2.5 miles to her house. I’m going to try and get her on the air at some point to tell her story.
The most important difference about this holiday, is that it is mainly a couples holiday. Young couples will usually travel to the resort areas in Korea such as Busan, Gangneung, Jeju, or they’ll just go around Seoul. Many couples will do dinner and then spend the night at a hotel. The men in relationships are expected to give his beau a romantic gift such as jewelry or nice clothes. Guys, this gift would be akin to something you might give on Valentines Day. It’s a big deal and your Korean girlfriend might be a bit disappointed if she doesn’t get a present. You should take her out to a nice meal, give her a present, and see where it goes from there.
Just remember, Christmas is a foreign holiday and for many it is still a bit strange. Think of yourself as ambassadors of culture. Because Christmas is so new, any little act is all that more powerful. For example, I was on the subway when a group spontaneously started singing Christmas Carols. Afterwards, people on the subway applauded. You can also make Christmas Cookies. Think of it. If it’s the first Christmas Cookie, you’ve ever received. You will be forever synonymous with Christmas.

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