It’s that time of the year! Thermal underwear, heavy winter coats, and hot chocolate... The freezing, cold temperatures, coupled with a strong gush of wind and the occasional slight snow, signals that winter is here! With the presence of winter, it begins to look a lot like Christmas.
Journey through Seoul during the Christmas season and you will feel right at home. Whether you are traveling by foot or by bus, or visiting tourist sites, you will be in awe of the captivating decorations and light displays that further catapults you into the Christmas spirit. As early as late October, many well-known buildings, hotels, churches, and businesses light up the sky at night with their light studded chains, wreaths, rain deer, Christmas trees, elves, presents, re-creations of baby Jesus in the manger, and of course Santa Claus. From a high lookout point, such as N-Seoul Tower, the skyline during Christmas-time is absolutely breath-taking.
True to home, Christmas music is playing everywhere. It is playing on buses, in department stores and malls, in the corridors of the subway stations, restaurants, and from outdoor loud speakers along shopping strips. In addition to Christmas songs in Korean, “It’s a Wonderful Time of the Year,” “This Christmas,” “All I want for Christmas is You,” “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” and “Jingle Bells,” are a few of many familiar English songs that fill the air in Korea. At coffee shops and smaller restaurants, you can enjoy your favorite beverage and snacks with friends from Christmas themed cups, food containers, and desserts while you fa la la la along to the music.
Christmas would not be complete without the “ring-a-ling” of that infamous bell you hear every Christmas throughout the United States of America. Another familiar sight in Korea is the Salvation Army representatives dressed in red, standing behind their red buckets, ringing their bells in hopes of winning the attention, hearts, and donations of busy shoppers and commuters in this fast-pace, pali-pali (hurry up) society. Streets and shops are crowded with shoppers taking advantage of the irresistible Christmas sales for those much needed gifts. There are 50% off sales, 75% off, a free gift with a particular purchase, and these offers are endless.
Generally, Korean companies and businesses do not host corporate Christmas parties. However, friends and families; communities; and church congregations come together and celebrate in memorable ways. Similar to home, Christmas parties in Korea are donned with good-times, prizes, photos, and gift exchange. However, each party has its own unique style. Major differences can be seen with the type of food served, games or activities, or the primary language spoken.
Although I didn’t get to build a snowman, I had the opportunity to attend numerous parties and worship services during the Christmas season. With each occasion, I was blessed to make new friends and/ or deepen my bond with existing friends and ecumenical co-workers. The first party I attended was the Fifth Annual, One Day Live Cafe, hosted by New Life Thai Church and Yangmuri Church in Ansan. The full day Christmas celebration was specifically for foreign workers and multi-cultural families; however, everyone was welcome. This function, enriched with a host of live performances and a variety of Korean, Thai, and Western dishes, “is significant because very small churches with giant hearts unite and serve in a huge way to help foreigners that are away from home and their loved ones during the holiday season and during the year,” states 진 지은 (Jin Jieun), member of Yangmuri Church.
Trisha and I were welcomed with open arms at the Pag-Iribang Bicolnon, Filipino Community Christmas Party after we attended the 2016 International Migrants Day, Migrant Workers Memorial Ceremony. It was truly a Christmas celebration with a plethora of games involving healthy, friendly and fun competition between individuals, partners, or couples. Karaoke contests, dancing, dinner, and a performance by the Hyewhadong Filipino Catholic Community Choir (HFCC) comprised the evening. The huge “spread” of Filipino dishes and desserts such as, bicol express; adobo; dinuguan; menudo; gulag; palabok; ginataang monggo; yema cake; and fruit salad, was absolutely delicious. Many at the party were Filipino migrants and undocumented workers; therefore, prayers and words of encouragement, wisdom, and support were shared throughout the evening.
Rev. Jeong Jinwoo and Mrs. Kim Mee Sun hosted a Christmas party which was truly heartwarming. We had a fun and wonderful evening of fellowship, conversation, laughter, and great Korean food and beverages. We were a group of lively ecumenical co-workers, Koreans and non-Koreans, from various departments within the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and the Presbyterian Church in Korea (PROK). During the evening, I learned that other foreigners had Korean names. I also wanted a Korean name and therefore asked Rev. Jeong to give me one. After spending time in prayer, he returned to the party and gave me the name 고 하 은 (Ko Ha Eun), meaning High God’s Grace. I was deeply touched to receive this name from the Lord.
His wife surprised us all with special gifts of beautiful, handmade crochet winter hats! We were all elated and overjoyed while choosing just the “right” design to fit our personalities and tastes. Mrs. Kim uniquely designed each hat and they were “just what we needed” for the shivering cold temperatures in Korea.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Korea are filled with church services, concerts, and parties. I was blessed to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, here in Korea. On Christmas Eve, my ecumenical co-worker, Catherine Christie hosted a gathering in her home in which we continued the evening together with worship at the nine o’clock pm English worship service at Chundong Methodist Church. On Christmas Day, I attended three worship services at New Harvest Ministries, Nasom Presbyterian Church, and Zion Methodist Church. My Christmas day ended the same way my season of celebration began…with a night of making new friends, singing, games, and stuffing myself with delicious food at a Christmas party with members of Zion Methodist Church.
Kahala Cannon serves with the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK). Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.