Seoul's Christmas spirit
Few things are harder than being away from loved ones during Christmas, a time, which traditionally, is spent surrounded by the ones you know and love. As expats we know that the lifestyle we have chosen means that we will feel a disconnect from family and miss these key gatherings, it's part of the territory but it doesn't mean we have to be sad.
Whether you are doing Christmas in South Korea alone, with a partner/friend, visiting family, or with the family in toe via Skype - we have you covered.
In an attempt to quash the despair and replace it with the appropriate seasonal cheer we have set ourselves the task of finding some things in and around Seoul, our current haunt, that will get us into the Christmas spirit. For those who know me, and for those who don't it will quickly become apparent, I love Christmas. Dean, has been a relative newcomer to Christmas celebrations but is now as excitable as a kid who still believes in the jolly old fella! So when I suggested we go in search of tinsel and fairy lights Dean was all aboard.
This will be our second Christmas in South Korea. Last year we had only been in the country for a couple of months, we didn't know the areas and we had not connected ourselves well enough to know what was going on. So, at the time, we thought there was little to no celebrations for the season. Whilst it is still true that Christmas is not celebrated in the same way here as it is in the west, this year we knew where to look.
Nothing screams Christmas quite like an overabundance of tinsel. Whilst South Koreans traditionally do not celebrate Christmas they do love a theme so prepare yourself for decorations, costumes, trees and lights.
We began in Myeongdong, at Shinsegae, Seoul's answer to Harrods, here they have decorated the street outside the department store with wreaths, trees and lights. In 2017 they had a giant Christmas tree on the facade of the building. Visit at night for the best display.
To purchase decorations you can go to any number of Daiso in the area or, if you like the market vibes, you can head to Namdaemun Markets for a plethora of baubles and tinsel plus some really humorous inflatable decorations (more on that below).
There are also some fabulous decorations to be found in the train stations, passing through we saw many little arrangements. Some that made us laugh, such as twerking Santas. If you are looking to decorate your home head on down to Namdaemun markets where you will find a few pop-up stores dedicated to Christmas. Find your way to Hoehyeon station on line 4, take exit 7, walk along for a couple hundred metres turn left on the next main road, then turn left again onto Namdaemunsijang-gil (or camera street). Along this street and the smaller alleys lined with markets you will find; trees, wrapping paper, ribbons, decorations, costumes, and anything else you would want to make your home resplendent with festive cheer.
Food is the central theme of Christmas in our household. We don't go overboard we just level up. Instead of buying lot's of food we purchase some high quality treats that we usually do not allocate money to during the year. This year, mostly because it is super expensive in Korea, we are starting with a Charcuterie platter - we have selected a couple of meats and cheese. Emart and Homeplus, Korea's largest everyday supermarkets, will have a decent selection but we head to SSG (Shinsegae) to pick up some more 'exotic' varieties. The bonus is they usually have something on special so we are able to pick up a nice brie or blue cheese for around $7 USD (W8,000). Cold cuts are a little different, in our opinion a lot of the salami's offered in Korea are vastly different from what we would term a traditional cured meat. They are often smooth in texture, instead of course ground meat, and not dried at all - so they closely resemble a sausage. Some people enjoy that, we do not, SSG has a good range of traditional salami, imported, and we picked up a decent one for $15 USD (W17,000) I know, I know - I said it was a treat!
If you are looking for more 'traditional Christmas' fare head on over to Itaewon where any one of the many international markets will be able to provide you with samplings from home, though usually USA. Australia is seriously underrepresented in South Korea and despite looking everywhere we have never seen a jar of Vegemite here. A great place to find some festive treats, and a turkey roll, is High Street Market in Itaewon. You can also purchase a good sized turkey at CostCo, though I don't actually know anyone here that has an over large enough to cook a whole one, as ovens are not common in South Korea most of us have tiny 'easy bake' style appliances.
Festive beverages are certain to bring on the Christmas cheer and can be found at any one of the ubiquitous Starbucks on any high street. South Korea has their own versions of the coffee chain that supply some Christmas inspired drinks, the better ones are; Holly's or Cafe Bene - who both have festive lattes. Our new favourite is Fat Cat, in the HBC area, check out our recent write up here, they are currently supplying the goods with eggnog and gingerbread lattes and steamers. Prior to Christmas they also do the good ol' PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte).
I need to be surrounded by like minded people to bring on the festive cheer and being British Australian I have a strong love of Christmas markets. At the beginning of the season we stumbled upon an advertisement for the European Christmas Market held in Seongbuk, this year being held on December 2nd and 3rd. The markets themselves are small and arranged around a small stage area bedecked with decorations and playing host to performers. The standard inclusions are there; mulled wine, cookies, decorations, stalls and some Christmas food offerings. Admission is free.
KINTEX in Ilsan hosts a Christmas Fair in two parts, the first 8th - 10th December, and the second on 15th - 17th December. On offer will be; trees, decorations, lighting, cosmetics, food and toys. Admission is ₩3,000 per person.
If you want to take your Christmas and turn it up a little you could head on over to Lotte World or Everland, who both decorate their theme parks with Christmas paraphernalia and have parades. They generally start the Christmas rotation after the Halloween one so expect themes to change around mid-November.