November is almost over in Korea now, and the days have generally been keeping themselves above 10 degrees Celsius, even still. In Pohang, that is.
The other day was even a sunny 18 degrees! Coming from my hometown in Canada (which is by no means a terribly cold place), it has already snowed, though I don’t believe it’s stuck.
In a time where I already see people on Facebook back home sharing how they’re playing Christmas music and setting up their tree…I’m finding myself almost forgetting that season is fast approaching (though, I must say, I have seen some evidence in stores and public places with some decorations and some holiday-specific products already being sold).
Part of my forgetfulness is because I tie this Christmas season strongly to cold weather! Since it hasn’t gotten cold enough to break out of fall (at all, in my opinion) it doesn’t fully feel like Christmas is coming.
Another part of this forgetfulness is also because Christmas in Korea is not the same as in North America: a holiday where families flock together, almost all stores and businesses shut down, Christmas vacation is in full swing and won’t be over until at least January. Back home it’s the biggest holiday of the year and you can see it coming from a long way off as it speeds over. And here…well, it’s just not as present, not as big of a holiday.
They already have a couple major holidays throughout the year where families come together, eat lots of food, and celebrate the season – whether it’s the lunar new year or the harvest festival.
Granted, Korea celebrates Christmas more widely than any other East Asian country: for instance, Christmas is a national holiday here (Yay!) whereas in China or Japan it’s not. Korea having a larger Christian population (around 30%) also contributes to that. Though, I will still be teaching the week directly following Christmas. That will certainly be different for me, but! I didn’t come to Korea so that I could have things like Christmas be just as they are back home.
This contrast is especially reflected in that here, it’s considered a “couples holiday.” I mean, I get it – bright lights and decor, giving gifts and cold weather all make a great environment for that. Even more so here in Korea, where other couples holidays and couples culture are very much alive and well! And couples sweaters. I’ve already heard about those, and seen many matching couples outfits in general! Couples shirts, hats, headpieces, whole ensembles…it’s a significant thing here, and it’s always interesting to see.
Still, as similar as I’m sure Christmas will be in many areas, it will still be different.
I know that’s an obvious statement. Of course, it’s going to be different! I’m living on another side of the globe where so many other things are different, so how can I expect that it would be anything else? I can’t, and I didn’t, but I suppose it’s just hitting me once again that it actually will be different. This isn’t Canada, after all…it’s Korea.
I’m just beginning to experience this difference in the merry season for myself now. Before it was head knowledge, and soon it will be personal knowledge – gained from experience.
They always say living abroad (living away from home in general, really) is harder on holidays. I’ve already known that to be true as I’ve gone through Easter, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Thanksgiving, and others as I’ve been living in Korea these past nine months. But this one is the biggie.
And that’s okay.
This is a prime opportunity for me to put all the head knowledge and experience I’ve gained here into action, and spend December 25th like the precious day it is.
I’ve already got plans in place for spending it with friends and exchanging gifts in some fashion or another with some family back home, who I’ll be sure to Skype on the day in question.
It’ll be different (and hard, at some points), but it’ll be good. That’s not in doubt.
Besides, being with family and friends really isn’t the most important part of this holiday, as strange as that sounds. Not for me.
It’s a holiday that’s merry and bright, but the primary cause of that is because of a time more than 2,000 years ago in a place I’m sure must not have been so merry and bright.
By that, I mean the stable Jesus was born into as a baby. I’m sure it must have been a time that was rather stressful and stinky at points, though still merry simply because of the wonderful thing that was happening – where this holiday (and so much more) was being born.
That’s what I’ll remember this December. I will remember that this is a time truly merry and bright – not with who is around me necessarily, what gifts I do or don’t receive, what music is playing around me, or how much time I have off to celebrate it.
It’ll be joyful because of what was given to me – to us – a long, long time ago. In this galaxy, on this little planet, underneath a magnificent star, in a dingy place that somehow held the glory bestowed upon it that night.
Not even the angels could contain their excitement that night.
I don’t think I will either.