Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in Korea

When I decided to move to Korea, I realized there would be many cultural adjustments and even sacrifices I would make over the year. Halloween came without the myriad Jack-o-Lantern-ladened porches, piles of orange and black wrapped candy, and haunted houses. October 31st did, however, see many a waygook classroom bedecked in makeshift spooky decor (my classroom features bats, streamers, and pumpkins) and plenty more waygooks traipsing about the streets of downtown Daegu in an array of Halloween costumes. Needless to say, besides the pub crawl, Halloween wasn't quite the week-long show as it usually is in the US.

Then Thanksgiving rolled in. The grocery stores seemed entirely unaware of the need for freezerfuls of whopper turkeys, bins overflowing with stuffing mix, and bakeries churning out turkey- and pilgrim-encrusted confections. However, Costco seemed more than happy to provide us American expats (and our non-miguk friends) with pumpkin pies galore. And even better, the expat community publication (Daegu Pockets) made Thanksgiving meal packages available for purchase. These bundles features a large cooked turkey, stuffing, a can of cranberry sauce (we need that cylinder!), and gravy mix (all of this was lovely, by the way). And all friends American and otherwise joined together their strengths (think Captain Planet) to provide an excellent meal worthy of any American family's table at the end of November. And of course, Thanksgiving lessons were dished out to many a salivating class of students across town. (My third and fourth grade afterschool class was particularly irritated with my pictorial display of juicy turkey and flaky biscuits around 4pm.)

December cropped up more quickly than I had expected. In the US, I am so used the warning that "December is nigh!" when the Christmas decor seeps its way into stores as the Halloween clearance sales begin. But this year, Thanksgiving came and went without a trace of mall Santas, Starbucks Christmas cups holding Gingerbread Lattes, and those eager neighbors with the crazy light display to put up the very second the leftovers are packed away. I reluctantly accepted that Christmas would not smell of gingerbread and spices nor would feature twinkle lights on every unsuspecting tree and bush about town; I guessed that this would be Christmas in Korea - like any other day in Korea, just in December.

Just when I began to accept that Christmas may be bah-humbuggy, I saw the first lights of the season. And then it seemed as if a sea of lights grew overnight across Daegu. It was as if the Grinch had brought back all of the lights and trees and bamboozlers and wambunckles and Christmas was restored, and with it, my Christmas spirit. There are lights all around Daegu - adorning the Donga department store, covering Junangro Memorial Park, twinkling across various stores and coffee shops. It just seems right and I am so happy that Korea has adopted these Christmas traditions, commercial as they may be. And then I began to notice the Christmas cups - Holly's, Da Vinci, Angel-in-us all provided their customers with cheery red and green Christmas-themed cups.

A few days later, I decided I needed a Christmas tree, so I hurried to Homeplus and purchased a 5-foot-tall artificial tree and ornaments. That night, I put up my tree in my tiny studio apartment and all seemed right with the world. As I saw the lights on my tree twinkle and admired the star on top, I could finally accept and appreciate that it was Christmas. And even though I will be spending my actual Christmas in Kyoto, Japan with my mom, I know that back home in Daegu there is a Christmas tree waiting for me and a stocking hung on my dresser with care.

Merry Christmas everyone. May your holidays be filled with joy and all that you wish for this holiday season. And please, be safe out there.

Love and Happiest of Holidays to all,


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