Well, winter break is upon us public school teachers here, and the true beauty of going the public school path is beginning to manifest itself. Tomorrow is my last day of Winter Camp, a half-day elective English camp arranged through my school, and then I’m not needed again until the second week of February. I may still need to go in for some office hours in the two weeks separating me from my upcoming trip to Taiwan and The Philippines, but even that is up in the air. Blissful relaxation (when I’m not preparing lesson plans for next year, that is) is right around the corner.
I probably should have done this article at some point in the last week or two, but now’s better than later, I guess. Christmas and New Years weren’t massively different here than the states, but they do have their own flavors, and I certainly enjoyed both.
Also, a bit of a disclaimer- neither of the below photos are mine, so any compliments or comments are due Google Imagesearch…
Christmas is traditionally a much more low-key affair in Korea, celebrated by its substantial but still minority Christian population much like it would be in the United States, but without quite the ostentatious displays and commercialism that mark the worst of the season. That being said, commercialism is starting to rear its head a bit more these days, and Christmas sales and advertising are becoming the norm.
Also fierce Road Warrior-style armies of outlaw Asian Santas
One interesting aspect of the holiday as it’s celebrated here is that it seems to be more geared towards couples than families and children, and bars and restaurants do brisk business on Christmas Eve. After eating a large meal full of rare Western delicacies like pumpkin pie and loaded mashed potatoes, that’s exactly where I went with the 20-odd strong English Teacher population in Tongyeong. It was a great party, if a bit on the eccentric side, and I was glad to celebrate the holiday in a bit more fulfilling fashion than in Peru, where my first year I sat in my room playing Christmas music and drinking hot chocolate after the rest of the town’d already gone to bed.
New Year’s is not quite as celebrated in Korea, and when it is the usual customs seem to apply. I also spent it in a bar, perhaps more appropriately this time, with English-speaking friends, and anyone who celebrated it in the customary fashion in the States or elsewhere probably has fairly similar stories as to how the night went, although my 8:30 a.m. bedtime was a bit of a stretch even for myself.
The reason why the excitement level isn’t quite so high for the Gregorian New Year is that Koreans have their own Lunar New Year, Solnal, with a much richer tradition built up around it. This year finds it celebrated towards the end of January, and it runs for three days. It’s a family holiday- a time to return to the family home, give respect and food and drink offerings to the ancestors, and celebrate the traditional family structure by paying respect to its elders. The children receive small gifts of money and wisdom, and everyone settles down for a meal heavy on variations of rice-cake.
I unfortunately won’t be around for this holiday, not that I would do much with it anyway, but I should get one more post in before I go on my trip, and should have a brief flurry of blogging after that. I’ll sign off with a very belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, which you can go on and pay forward to next year’s if you feel like it…