I mentioned that Christmas decorations are appearing in more stores and businesses in South Korea, especially Seoul.
Nevertheless, in Korea, Christmas is seen as a distinctly Christian holiday.
So, how do Korean Christians celebrate Christmas?
Like in many American churches, on Christmas Eve the Korean congregations and its youth have a traditional Christmas pageant as part service, but that service usually lasts for hours.
Interestingly, after the service and beginning at midnight until about 5 am (on Christmas morning), church youth break into small groups and go caroling at the homes of the congregation. It is traditional that when they hear the carolers outside their home, Korean Christians open the door and listen to the songs. Then the family invites the entire group into their home for hot drinks and snacks. The group then proceeds to the next home, etc. until early Christmas morning. After catching an hour or two of sleep, the teens and families return to church at 11 am on Christmas Day for the traditional Christmas worship service.
The worship is followed by a traditional Christmas dinner usually served at the church. The meal is often a hot bowl of rice cake soup served with kimch’i.
For those who wish to say “Merry Christmas” in Korean.
There are two Merry Christmas greetings
Sung tan jul chuk ha or Christmas bo nae say oh
So, did Korea have a seasonal holiday before Christian Christmas?
Yes, Dongji, or the winter solstice, was as significant as Lunar New Year's Day in Old Korea since it was when the days started to become longer than the nights. People offered rituals for the gods and their ancestors on that day, calling it A-Se or little New Year's Day.
Traditionally the winter solstice, which falls on December 22 this year, was a time to makeup a new calendar and mark it with the seasonal sub divisions corresponding with the agricultural seasons. In Korea, this tradition lives on today in the modern practice of giving calendars as year-end gifts.
Although Dongji is no longer considered as big a holiday as Chuseok (Harvest Full Moon) and Seol (Lunar New Year's Day), there still remain important customs associated with celebrating Dongji.
One of the most common customs is cooking and eating red bean porridge, or patjuk.
The reason behind this custom is that Korean people believed that red beans have a mysterious power of driving evil spirits away. In Old Korea, people thought evil spirits hated the red color.
Religious services will also be held on Dongji in many Buddhist temples across the country.
Sae hae bok mani ba deu say oh! (Happy Holidays)