Sunday, December 24, 2006

Korea's First Christmas Tree

I'd thought I'd share an excerpt from one of my 3 novels, A Yankee in the Land of the Morning Calm. In writing the book I based much on the life of American missionaries like Lillias Horton Underwood.

Lillias documented her efforts with the Korean royal family in Fifteen Years Among the Top-Knots or Life in Korea (NewYork: American Tract Society, 1904).

From A Yankee in the Land of the Morning Calm: A Historic Novel, Book One.

The Korean Royal Family Was No Exception.

In late December 1893, King Kojong and his wife Queen Min became very curious about the holiday and started to inquire about its significance. To satisfy her curiosity, Queen Min summoned her closest western friend and personal physician, Lillias Underwood to explain about the Christmas holiday, which the Anglo missionary did gladly. A few days later, on the December 25 Christian holiday, Queen Min made special arrangements for the Underwood family to receive gifts of fruit, expensive cloth, and elaborate silk screens.

Encouraged by the Queens kind gesture and aware of the royal family’s curiosity about western customs, Lillias asked to set up a Christmas tree in the palace--even though it was several days after December 25. Recruited to assist in the project, it was Josh Gillet’s chore to find a suitable tree. Tagging along, a curious Cho Sung Dae helped select and then haul an 8-foot pine tree to the Kyongbok Royal Palace. Lillias, wanting to please Queen Min, spent a great deal of effort in trimming the tree--complete with traditional candles and a star on top. When finished Lillias was somewhat disappointed with the results, as their majesties were too impatient to wait till dark to view it.’ With no heavy drapes to block the lights from the palace windows, the full effect of the Christmas tree was quite spoiled.” Lillias cited “the poor little candles flickered in a sickly way in the glaring daylight.” Nevertheless, Lillias with a Connecticut Yankee trader’s help introduced the holiday tradition to the Korean court.

Merry Christmas

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