Christmas in Korea: The Holidays as an Expatriate

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What is Christmas…. perhaps…. means a little bit more.”

Dr. Seuss

Christmas party with good friends.

Merriam – Webster Definition

               scrooge: a miserly person
My Definition
               scrooge: that inner monster that threatens to appear around the holidays. a distant relative of the Grinch, a creature that rears its pathetic head to try and convince expats that the holidays only hold sadness and disappointment. 
A December chill has fallen on Ulsan, South Korea, and school is slowly winding down for winter vacation. Unfortunately, the landscape is not blanketed in snow, which has me wistfully dreaming of a white Christmas in Minnesota. Perhaps some of the most difficult adjustments for expatriates, like myself, occur during the holidays. It is all too easy when separated from family and friends to focus on the negatives, the differences, and missing out on holiday traditions with loved ones. Far too often the holidays can turn expats into a sad version of Mr. Scrooge. Thankfully, I have learned at least some delightful strategies to battle my inner Grinch, and embrace my expatriate Christmas.

Strategy #1
 Celebrating holidays from home and staying in touch with my roots is important, but it sometimes requires adding a little creative twist to certain traditions. 

Every year my family gathers to plan, construct, and beautify several gingerbread houses. Now, with the nieces and nephews joining in on the fun, the magic of Christmas is even more infectious.

I was thoroughly disappointed to be missing out on this tradition with my family this year, and my inner scrooge almost got the better of me. However, I decided to ignore the homesick feelings and use my creativity to my advantage. Instead of gingerbread I planned on making graham cracker houses with my co-work and her family. Well, we couldn’t find graham crackers so we improvised and used some Korean cookies. 

Some of the details might have been changed, but I stopped the Grinch from stealing this tradition away from me. 

Chopsticks happen to make perfect supports while the icing is drying.

Mr. Clever Monkey mug was also quite helpful in the initial building stages.

Everything is assembled, it is time to decorate!

            Sharing a tradition I love with people that I care about is one of the best I keep away the homesick blues and bring on the Christmas cheer!

Ready for this candy-filled experience!

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

“I need to taste test this one, just to make sure it’s not poisoned,” he thought to himself (in Korean of course).

You can’t see me!! 

Strategy #2
Another way I have found to be effective in driving away any scroogy behavior is to surround oneself with “family” and friends. In Korea, the definition of family becomes much broader, but new “family” members can be just the key to driving away any lingering grinchiness. Spending time with my Korean family was balm to my soul and definitely enhanced my Christmas cheer.

For a Korean Christmas, good friends are equally important. While Christmas is generally a family holiday back in the States, in Korea the term “family” must extend to friends as well. 

Hayley cooking up some Christmas Eve grub.

“There is a bug, it was not invited to Christmas…….kill it!!!!!”

Merry Christmas!!

I caught Hayley’s inner Grinch on film. Thankfully, after the wine, Christmas music, and delicious food her inner scrooge was eventually mollified. 

Nothing quite like a little Air Mail Par avion for Christmas 🙂
Hayley makes wonderful mashed potatoes, if I ate potatoes I think hers would be my favorite. 

Cooking up a storm in the tiny kitchen that barely fits one person. 

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” 

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Christmas morning is not complete without a wealth of delicious food and the opening of many presents. Although Kaitlyn made out like a queen, the rest of us received lovely gifts as well.

Kaitlyn and I decided that modeling our awesome gifts from Hayley was necessary. 

Sara felt left out and decided to join in the fun. I think we could be the new advertisement for gmarket, right?

It would most certainly not be a Korean Christmas without a little Hello Kitty thrown in the mix. 

Christmas afternoon found me playing an epic game of SPOONS (markers in this case) with some more lovely friends 🙂

Strategy #3
Spending time with Family and friends for Christmas is of the utmost importance in maintaining ones sanity and Christmas spirit, but there is something is of equal importance………….

  GOOD FOOD…………….. and LOTS OF IT!!!!!!!

Christmas Eve Hors d’oeuvres

Delightful Christmas Eve Dinner

Scrumptious Christmas breakfast

Delicious Christmas lunch

So much COFFEE!!!!

My Favorite Present:


Kaitlyn gave Hayley, Sara, and I matching socks. I put them on directly as my feet were a bit chilled, and looked at them for a few seconds. The only thing my eyes would focus on was the giant white circle with a black dot in the middle. “Kaitlyn,” I said, “you got us cyclops socks?”
Hayley then held up her pair and rolled her eyes at me,  “oh, oops, I guess a teddy bear makes more sense since we’re in Korea.”

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home.”

Charles Dickens,

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