Korean Language Blog

How Koreans Celebrate Christmas Posted by on Jan 11, 2020 in Culture

I personally have a couple of family members’ birthdays around Christmas, including mine. Ever since I moved to the USA, I sometimes feel my birthdays get neglected under holiday seasons. Although it wasn’t a big deal when I lived in Korea because Koreans celebrate Christmas in a different way.

성탄절 (seong-tan-jeol: Christmas) is a 공휴일 (kong-hue-eel :public holiday) in Korea despite only less than 40% of Koreas identifying as 기독교인 (ki-dok-kyo-in: Christians).  The word of 성탄절 is made of Chinese characters and it means a holiday to celebrate the day when Jesus was born. It is very common to see phrases such as 메리 크리스마스 (Merry Christmas), which is often written in Korean as well as in English, around Christmas time. You feel in the festive spirit listening to Christmas carols and seeing the streets full of people walking around big Christmas trees full of lights.

기독교인 in Korea may celebrate Christmas by attending church services, putting more emphasis on the religious aspects around Christmas season. However, most Koreans celebrate Christmas a little differently from the western countries. For instance, Christmas is the time that families gather, cook together, and open Christmas gifts under the trees in America. Most Korean families may go out for dinner, but the whole family wouldn’t travel miles and miles for Christmas. Some Koreans celebrate Christmas by spending time with their 연인 (yeon-in: a lover) or 친구들 (chin-goo-dul: friends). People usually go to movies on Christmas days or to concerts.


Since Christmas is a week prior to the 신정 (shin-jeong: New Year’s Day), you would likely be invited to many social parties, like 송년회 (song-nyun-hoe: year-end party) from work or school. Some people enjoy great shopping deals around the Christmas time. Nowadays, some Koreans even plan to travel abroad around Christmas time.

Christmas was one of my favorite holidays because I used to get Christmas 선물 (seon-mool: presents) from my parents. Most Korean kids get 선물 from their parents, and even adults may exchange gifts around Christmas Day, but opening gifts with pajamas on while sitting under the tree is not a tradition in Korea. Most Koreans don’t get real trees for Christmas either. Koreans usually put up some plastic Christmas tree at home.

I spent a quiet Christmas this year, but it was peaceful enough to contemplate the real meaning of Christmas.

What do you think about Korean Christmas? What was your celebration like this year?

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About the Author: Flying Oyster

Hi, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. H.J.