January 05, 2011

the war on christmas: the eastern front...

Every year in North America it seems that Christmas takes another blow. Some religious organization, or atheist movement takes offence to something related to Christmas. One such example, the infamous shift from 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Holidays'. This year the Colbert Report informed me about the FOX news  segment  'The War on Christmas', and I thought I'd add my own entry about Korea. 
Christmas in Korea is really not that big of a deal, it's more of a non event. The holiday is more a reflection of a commercial holiday than a religious celebration. I have not spotted a single nativity scene anywhere, although there are random reindeer, and decorated Christmas trees scattered throughout the neighbourhood. One of the pizza parlours I frequent is the proud home of one such reindeer. He proudly showed off the reindeer on my last visit.

I scouted out to find Santa, or well a physical incarnation of the man in red. Like the nativity scenes he was nowhere to be found, alive that is. Gangnam (a trendy affluent area of Seoul), did have several plastic versions tied to streetlamps, and before you ask, no none of them were Korean. A year ago I was building Pepsi displays honouring jolly old Saint Nick, and this year I can't even find a Coke bottle with his likeness.

The Christmas hangover that is usually associated with the days following Christmas, didn't occur. It seemed like the country was ramping up for New Years, instead of winding down from an overdose of Eggnog (a virtually nonexistent novelty). Pretty much this country boasts an absence of Christmas. Sure it is a holiday, but it is a holiday celebrated much less than many others. Christmas day in Korea was a day like any other, I didn't notice even a single store closure. New Years appeared to have more of an effect on the nation, as there were a handful of shops that didn't open. Since drinking is a national past time in Korea, that seemed to make sense.

Although Christianity is the prominent religion in Korea at 26.3%. That doesn't mean much when almost half of the country is non religious (49.7%). So perhaps there was a war at some point in Korean history that wiped the yuletide spirit from the nation. At the very least though, I think the numbers can help allow you to draw your own conclusion.

Religion or not, I'd say that my biggest loss came in the bakery department. I for one love Christmas baking. I love the excuse for people to make delectable cookies, and other baked goods. I spent Christmas day drooling on Skype, as my parents showed off the loot they sat in front of at a friend's house: Nanaimo bars, brownies, and sugar cookies were all waiting to be eaten, 8,500km away.

I was however able to find and enjoy some premium baked goods in Korea, It simply required a Google search, and clever timing. I suppose that is the best benefit from living in a city of 20 million plus, there is a niche market for everything. Yet when Christmas becomes a niche market you know that you are a long way from home.

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