Christmas in Korea is not Christmas in America. Christmas in Korea is more like Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday made for couples, not families. Families with small children will probably spend it together, and those children may receive gifts (then again, they may not; I’m still confused as to who gets gifts, if anyone gets them at all), but mostly this holiday is about taking your girlfriend or wife out and showering her with dinner, presents, flowers, perhaps serenading her with a song of sarang and playing the piano for her, as one of my teachers had planned to do. The Christmas I know does not exist here. Kids do not make Christmas lists – though they did in my classes, as a short writing/speaking exercise in which I discovered that many want mp3s and mp4s and Nintendo Wiis. They do not wake up early Christmas morning and open gifts with their families. When I told them that this is what people do in the United States, many of them said they wanted to go to America to have Christmas there. The city is not lit up with decorations, only a few trees outside the local Homeplus and a handful of Christmas trees made of lights scattered over town. No driving around to look at snow-covered homes glowing green and red. The homes are not homes as we know them in the States; they are huge apartment complexes. And, of course, there is no snow here. All that said, Christmas in Korea was still pretty good. My parents sent my sister to be with me, the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education (DMOE) threw a Christmas Eve Dinner Party for the foreign teachers in a wedding hall at a hotel downtown, and on Christmas day my closest friends in Korea gathered at my house to eat and celebrate.
But I think the highlight was taking a bus to the hotel with my sister on Christmas Eve. Filled to capacity, my sister and I stood at the front, holding on, bracing ourselves. I didn’t have exact change, so I asked a woman if she could change a 5,000 won note (oh chun won), but she didn’t have change either. She asked the bus driver who said we could ride for free. The bus driver was dressed as Santa Claus and he had decorated the front of the bus with lights and Merry Christmas signs. He seemed to be quite pleased with himself. And despite the craziness of that bus ride, I think so were we, my sister and I, sharing Christmas together in this strange, strange place.