My Favourite Christmas in Korea Memory

Since I forgot to take a photo of my Christmas in Korea memory, here's my parent's Christmas lights instead. Merry Christmas!
Since I forgot to take a photo of my Christmas in Korea memory, here’s my parent’s Christmas lights instead. Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve and I adore Christmas so I thought I’d share my favourite ‘Christmas in Korea’ memory as I did spend two Christmases – 2005 and 2007 – there. This is a tale of my first Christmas in Korea.

Now I’ve written, slightly tongue-in-check, about my family’s fun Christmas traditions before but I’ve never really shared any memories of my Christmas experiences in Korea, well not afterwards anyways. And as my experiences were quite different from how I normally celebrate it here… and as it’s Christmas… I thought this would be the perfect time.

Interestingly, even though I thought I was going to miss my family a bit during my first Christmas in Korea, I didn’t really. In part because it really didn’t feel like Christmas (it’s not really a holiday in the sense that it is here) and in part because I was still super excited about it. You see, I’m a very, very curious person and there is nothing I love more than exploring new things, whether they be new cultures, new places or new food. Okay, meeting new people and making new friends is better but exploring new places/cultures/food comes a close second. And I just knew that my first Christmas in Korea was going to be fun.

What did I do for my first Christmas in Korea?

On the actual day of Christmas, I went to a co-worker’s wedding which was interesting. Did you know that Christmas was a popular day to get married in Korea? I didn’t either until I moved to Korea but it was fun, especially as I got to see the similarities and differences between weddings here in Canada and those in Korea. Christmas is also more of a couple holiday than a family one so everyone wants to be in a relationship then. Actually, there’s a lot of ‘couple holidays’, like the 14th of most months but that’s a completely different story. Afterwards, I went out for dinner with friends and then to a bar.

But that’s not really the Christmas in Korea memory I want to share, although it was fun. The most memorable memory I have was actually of my first Christmas Eve dinner. Now for those of you who don’t know, I taught English in Korea from 2005-2008 with my first year in Ulsan and the other two years in Seoul. But I’d only been in Korea for a couple of months when Christmas 2005 came around so my Korean wasn’t very good so I was still pointing at menus, speaking like a three year old and occasionally eating food I had no idea what it was (which really makes dinner interesting). I was having a lot of fun exploring all the wonderful and interesting Korean food and that Christmas was no different.

Want to know what we ate?

Of course you do. Since my friends and I wanted a special dinner for Christmas  Eve we asked for recommendations from our Korean co-workers and we ended up at this barbecue restaurant that was suggested. Most of us were newbies so we asked the friendly lady serving us for her best BBQ in our halting Korean. She smiled and brought us our meat and man, did our eyes get wide. This was one of those times I was wondering ‘what did I just order?’

Oh wait, I still haven’t told you what we ate… it was makchang gui (막창구이, grilled pork large intestines). And while it may not sound appetizing, it was quite good, especially when cooked until crispy. But it doesn’t really look pretty when it first came to the table. It wasn’t as surprising as the time I ordered dak bal (닭발, spicy chicken feet) accidentally but still unexpected. Of course, not everyone liked it but it was fun trying something new and to this day, 10 years later, makchang gui reminds me of Christmas.

Plus trying something new and completely unlike what we would normally eat had the added benefit of being the perfect remedy for not being able to have a big roast turkey dinner. It remains my most interesting Christmas meal, although not my strongest food memory from Korea… but that’s another story.

Do you have any interesting Christmas stories? Have you spent Christmas in Korea? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday – this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it’s taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I’m the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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