Winter Holidays in South Korea

Have you ever wondered what Koreans celebrate in December? With the holiday season just around the corner, a lot of people have their own ways of celebrating Christmas or other holidays. 


Christmas in South Korea

With the rise of k-pop or Korean pop music with groups such as BTS or Blackpink, the world is becoming more and more familiar with South Korea. In Korean, Christmas is Sung Tan Jul (숭탄절). Unlike Western culture, Koreans don’t really travel much for Christmas except if they are Christian, which 30% are Christian. South Korea is known for mostly being non- religious, so even though some Koreans see the spiritual side of it, most Koreans see it as a time to relax. They save most of their traveling for New Year’s Day, which we will get into later.

The traditional decorations are silk slippers and drums. Most people don’t decorate their house outside because they live in multi-family apartments with little to no space for extra decorations. 

Like Western culture, Koreans also share a big meal with their families. Instead of ham or turkey, Koreans eat bulgogi (불고기) , sweet potato noodles, and kimchi (김치). A favorite during the holidays is tteok guk (떡국). It is a rice cake. Bulgogi is a marinated meat dish that is stir fried at home. It is served with rice and other traditional side dishes. A treat they usually have is Christmas cake. Some people treat themselves to a night out. In Seoul, Christmas buffets are popular. 

Like the West, Korea also has a “santa claus.” He is called “Grandpa Santa” “Santa Kullusu” or “Santa Haraboji” due to the respect for elders in the culture. (hangul: 산타 클로스  or  산타 하라보지) Unlike the Western Santa, Grandpa Santa is found wearing blue or green robes. Sometimes he wears traditional robes, hanbok (한복), and a gat (같), which was a hat worn during the Joseon Dynasty. 

Most Koreans don’t really give gifts. Instead, they give money or entertainment such as reading a poem or a musical performance. An object is ALWAYS given with both hands and a Korean person will think you are rude if you hand them an item with one hand. 

A fun Korean holiday celebration is ice skating and sledding. There are lots of ice skating rinks and ski resorts in South Korea.  


Chinese New Year and Korean New Year

Yes, it says Chinese new year, but Koreans celebrate it too. It is a very big deal throughout East Asia. It is based on the Chinese calendar. The year 2023 is the year of the Rabbit. It begins on Sunday, January 22. In Korean, it is called Seollal (설날). It is celebrated after the second new moon after the winter solstice. It is to celebrate the new year and to wish good luck for people. In Chinese, the quote usually said to wish people a good year translates to “I hope you get rich.” In Korea, a common phrase for the new year is, “새해 복 많이 받으십시오.” “saehae bok mahni badeushipshio.” (If you are being super polite with a business person) or “새해 복 많이 받으세요.” “saehae bok mahni badeuseyo.” (With your friends or normal people in an informal setting.)

The new year in Korea has two celebrations, one on January 1 and the other on January 22. The one on January 1 is the beginning of the calendar year and it is, in a way, everyone’s birthday. Everyone in Korea is already 1 year old when they are born. For example, if someone was born on March 3, 2006, they would be 1 on that day and then they would turn 2 on their birthday. When January comes, the person is 3 years old. The person born on March 3, 2006 is 17 years old in Korean age as of 2022. 


What is my Korean Age?

Your Korean age is your current age, plus one year. If your birthday has not passed that year, you add 2 more years to your age. If you were born on January 1, congratulations! You add 2 years to your international age. 


What is the Chinese New Year?

Each year, there is a new animal that is said to predict how the year will go. In 2023, the animal will be the Rabbit. The Rabbit has yin energy, it represents spring, and its element is wood. 

This means that 2023 is supposed to bring new beginnings and life and it is supposed to be very calm. People born with this zodiac are said to be more calm, smart and level- headed.

I am personally a Dog in the Chinese zodiac. 

The start of a new Chinese zodiac cycle is every 12 years on the Rat. The year of the rat will be in 2032.

The Chinese new year is to celebrate the new year and to wish people luck and prosperity. Most people in Asia get red envelopes filled with money. They spend time with family and friends and eat a big meal. Much like western Christmas, many families travel to see their relatives and give them gifts. 


Are There Other Holidays Koreans Celebrate?

Yes, there is Chuseok, which is a Korean Thanksgiving. It happens in September. It is for worshiping ancestors and having a harvest festival. In 2023, it will be from September 28 to September 30.