12/8/16 Union Christmas Tree

Last year’s Christmas tree in the Great Hall of the Purdue Memorial Union stands tall with lights and ornaments decorating it. This year’s tree will be raised on Monday.

November has flown by and now only 16 days remain until Christmas.

Stemming from Christianity, Christmas is all about the spirit of family and giving. Especially here in America, Christmas is and always has been a big deal. As soon as Thanksgiving is over, we start seeing classic Christmas movies playing on repeat, stores and buildings decorated with Christmas lights, and shops selling ornaments and other commercialized Christmas products. But what about Christmas in other countries? Is Christmas celebrated just as fervently in other parts of the world?

The answer is yes. Let’s take a look at East Asia, South Korea specifically.

In Korea, Christmas is celebrated and is considered an official public holiday. People get the day off work and school and exchange gifts. It is common to see many buildings lit up with Christmas lights like you would see here. Many Americans, or non-Koreans, often have the misconception that Christmas isn’t celebrated in Korea and are shocked to discover that it is. After all, in other neighboring countries like Japan and China, Christmas is much less important and is not the national holiday.

The main reason why this is the case is because of the percentage of Christians living in Korea. Though the majority in Korea might not be Christians, there are still an overwhelming amount of them prevalent. Churches are found in just about every city and town. Essentially, the cause for this amount of Christians is Western influence. During the Korean war in the ‘50s, America came to South Korea’s aid against the communist North and the two countries have been close allies ever since. The presence of U.S. military in South Korea still lingers around even today.

This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t any differences. As much as we can compare the similarities of how Christmas is celebrated in America versus Korea, there are definitely some contrasts to be made.

A female senior in the College of Engineering, who wishes to remain anonymous, lived in Korea for about eight years before moving back to the States for college. She mentioned some of the differences she has noticed during her time in Korea.

“I like the Christmas spirit here. Korea does celebrate Christmas but it’s not quite the same. There are little differences. Like one thing, for instance, that I’ve noticed is that a lot of times in Korea people would exchange cash instead of actual presents.

“My parents grew up in the States and are actually very Westernized so we celebrate Christmas like anyone would here. If I had to point out the main differences, it’s what Korea doesn’t do compared to the States. For example, they don’t do caroling there. They don’t do big family meals and don’t really decorate their houses like people do here but that could just be because most Koreans live in smaller apartment complexes,” she said.

Youngwoo Han, a senior in the College of Pharmacy, grew up in Muncie, Indiana, but also lived in Korea for quite some time. He agreed that there were differences worth mentioning.

“Yes, Korea does celebrate Christmas and it gets pretty festive but I don’t think it’s as big of a deal there compared to over here. My family celebrates Christmas, but weren’t ever that big on the gifts part,” he said. “One thing I can think of at the top of my head is how Christmas is a big family thing here, but in Korea I’ve noticed it’s not so much a family thing. Instead you’d see a lot more couples going around, so I’ve noticed it’s more of a ‘couple thing’ over there, I think,” he said.

The engineering student and Han have both expressed positive sentiments about their Christmas experiences in Korea, but concurred that the holiday spirit is much more rampant here. Before heading off, the engineering student added one last thing regarding Christmas trees.

“One last thing I wanted to mention is the trees. Like here most people would go buy actual trees and put it up in their living room or front yard but in Korea everyone would get smaller plastic ones or none at all. Which I think is unfortunate, but again I think it’s because real trees are harder to fit in a small apartment. But on the plus side, they’re saving more trees so I think that’s good,” she added.

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