Christmas is the time when homesickness cuts deepest, not just for me, but for a lot of expats -- the only way to get across how big a deal Christmas is to North Americans (can't speak for the rest) is to ask your Korean friends to imagine Seollal, Chuseok, and Childrens' Day, all on one day.
Christmas in Korea is different - way different - than back home. I talk about that here (from last year, responding to Brian in JND's response to Korea's "Christmas of Dumb Hats")
Most of my opinions haven't changed much since last year...
[Some say] we have to respect the ways other cultures observe holidays, and if Korea wants to create a commercial monstrosity with stupid hats, that's their prerogative, and the other side [says], "it's all well and good to be a cultural relativist, but it's still jarring and maybe sad to see Christmas observed in a way that is so distant from the warm family holiday we remember from our childhood" (or even from the Christmas we see in movies like A Christmas Story, It's A Wonderful Life, and Love Actually... which is huge in Korea, maybe partly because it reinforces that Christmas is a couple holiday to Koreans.
What I'll say is this: I was never a big fan of commercial Christmas anywhere...but the fact that Christmas is not only mostly divorced from the old religious roots (didn't see a single nativity scene in two nights of walking around, haven't heard more than a few sacred carols on the Christmas music playlists in Korean shops), but ALSO divorced from the Christmas we remember from back home -- as far and away the number one family holiday of the year -- is jarring, and it sharpens the twinge of homesickness, or the sting of culture shock, for most of the month of December, for many of us. I always miss my family more at Christmas, and my students and Korean friends don't get that unless I ask how they'd feel spending Chuseok away from home, in a place where nobody knows what shikke or songpyun is..."
Now, given that the entire Christmas symbology is here, but it's used differently, maybe it's not accurate to ask my Korean friends to imagine Chuseok alone in a place where nobody knows what shikke or songpyun are... maybe a more accurage analogy is to imaging having Chuseok alone in a place where shikke is used exclusively as a mixer for rum drinks, and songpyeon is made of popcorn balls, which people throw at the boy or girl they like, in a holiday courtship ritual.
In previous Christmases, I've come across really cynical or dismissive of Christmas in Korea... but the fact is, every year I try hard to have some kind of Christmassy experience. I seek out friends, and festivals, and do sappy things, and hunt after the foods I eat for Christmas in Canada. This year, it's been particularly poignant, because 1. Wifeoseyo only gets the weekend off - nothing extra - and 2. it's my first Christmas with wifeoseyo, so I DO have family in Korea... (but Christmas will still always be an afterthought to most of them).
but on Saturday we went down to Goseok Terminal (subway lines 3, 6 and 9, if I remember correctly), where there are scads of Christmas decoration shops, and bought some candles, and shiny things, and hanging things, and a cute little tree. So the house looks like Christmas now. At least a little.
And we also got some ingredients, and I made my first Gluhwein today, as I experiment with it this week, to try and offer up something good for some friends this weekend.
Initial result: I'm gonna score it a 5/10. Hopefully I can get this going before friends come over.
I'll post more of the results from my gluhwein experiments over the course of the week.