A Korean Christmas: How to Celebrate the Holidays While Living Abroad

The holidays are upon us and December is busy, busy, busy. In Canada, people are cutting down their Christmas trees, sitting sideline at the Santa Claus Parade, and hitting up holiday parties left right and centre. Maybe they’re enjoying the first snowfall (although I heard it’s quite balmy in Southern Ontario right now). In Korea, it’s a whole different experience!

Christmas is a public holiday in Korea. This year it happens to fall on a Friday (yay, long weekend!). But that’s the only day we get off. My students will be back in school and I’ll be set to teach the following Monday.

Many people take part in Christmas traditions in Korea and it’s becoming a bigger celebration here.

But it’s still far from what I’m used to back home.

For starters, I don’t see Christmas décor everywhere. I don’t hear carols on the radio. I don’t see Santa Claus at the mall. As Cindy Lou-Who once said: where are you Christmas?!

Thank you previous teacher for leaving these lights!
christmas decor
Need some decorations? Head to Daiso!

Second, Christmas is considered more of a couple’s holiday where you spend time with your loved one. Think Valentine’s Day, with a side of eggnog. I asked my students what they want for Christmas and they basically looked at me with blank stares. My co-teacher explained to me afterwards that gift-giving is not a big ordeal. I told her I wish that was the case in North America and proceeded to show her a video from a recent Black Friday sale. Yikes!

Christmas is a time to be with your family and to be festive with friends. When you’re living abroad, it can be difficult to adjust. All the sights, sounds and smells you’re used to are almost non-existent. I keep forgetting that Christmas is this week! This is my first time being far away from familiar holiday traditions – but you just got to make the most of it!

Here are some ways to get into the holiday spirit when you’re missing the real thing back home:

Explore the city

Find out if any places in the city are doing anything Christmas-y. Like I mentioned, Christmas is becoming more celebrated in Korea so there’s bound to be something going on, especially within the expat community. LC and I got a little taste of home as we walked Nampo, a popular district in Busan known for its awesome street food vendors and clothing shops. Nampo did not disappoint – there were lights galore! Plus there were Christmas trees, life-sized snowmen and sleds and candy canes lining the streets. And then straight ahead, we see the pièce de résistance – the gigantic LED Christmas tree on display in the centre of Nampo square. Best believe we stopped to take some selfies! Haeundae is also getting into the Christmas spirit with decorations all over the streets and an outdoor skating rink built right on the beach. Check out Busan Haps for more things to do in the city.

Pretty lights in Nampo


Lighting up Nampo
Hanging with Frosty

Do a gift exchange with friends

This past weekend my friends and I got together for a gift swap. We decided to tweak the rules of White Elephant and the game was a hit! After some fierce competition (sorry for stealing your wine, S.H.) we all ended up with some awesome gifts. Being together to celebrate the holidays finally made it feel somewhat like Christmas. Plus, it’s an excuse to indulge in some cookies, cheese and wine!

“Let’s be reindeer”

Teach a Christmas lesson in class

I think it’s important for my students to learn about other cultures and to see how holidays are celebrated around the world. So I suggest teaching a lesson focused on Christmas (or any holiday!). Do some arts and crafts; sing some carols (they love ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’); pop in a Christmas movie (The Grinch is one of my faves); or have a yuletide party complete with hot chocolate and games! Remember to show lots of pictures with your friends and family getting into the festive spirit. They love getting a glimpse into their foreign teacher’s life back home!

Skype with your fam jam

If you are feeling homesick during the holidays, have a video chat with your family back home. They’re only a Skype call away. I know it always makes me feel better when I can see them. Although I can’t physically be there to take part in decorating the Christmas tree, or to taste my mum’s famous shortbreads, I can still see what’s going on back home and be there in spirit. Thank you, technology!

Merry Christmas!

These are just some of the ways I am adjusting to my first Christmas in Korea. On Christmas day, my friends and I are going to go to dinner with the possibility of Christmas karaoke afterwards (if we’re not stuffed like turkeys!).

How are you coping with  holiday homesickness? Leave a comment below!

I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season. All the best for 2016!