Christmas in Korea is a bit of a strange one. Whenever I ask my students if they are excited about Christmas, they don’t care. It’s not a widely celebrated holiday here. Everywhere is open, all trains and buses are running and people just treat it like they would any other bank holiday through the year. Yet, just walk into any department store and you’ll definitely feel the commercial spirit of Christmas.
This year is my second Christmas away from home and I guess that my approach to Christmas has changed quite a bit. Last year my friends and I got together for a pot luck party and tried our best (with horrendous hangovers) to create what we would usually have at home. This year I decided to have a more alternative Christmas. My boyfriend and I took the high speed train up to Seoul on Christmas Eve after work. We decided to spend the day at Everland, Korea’s most popular theme park. We soon realised, that what was alternative for us, was not particularly alternative for the rest of Korea! Apparently while everyone at home was eating turkey and watching the telly, everyone in Korea was at Everland. Yup, all 50 million people were at Everland. (Slight exaggeration, but only slight!)
When I planned to go to Everland for Christmas I imagined myself riding on rollercoasters all day, eating churros and feeling relaxed and carefree…. It did not go according to plan! But that’s ok. The intention of this post is not to bitch about Korean Christmas or how shitty Korean amusement parks are. I just want to show you guys that no matter where you are in the world, Christmas is a lot of pressure. And it really doesn’t need to be. It is just another day- and it’s a day off work, so don’t worry about having a perfect day. Just have a day, preferably a better day than a standard Tuesday!
There are a few reasons why Everland wasn’t really the perfect Christmas that I imagined in my head. For starters, the selfie stick situation was totally out of hand. This is usually to be expected anywhere there are cute things/ couples/ families in Korea, but it was difficult to walk from one place to another without feeling like you are going to get hit on the face with a selfie stick or completely ruin a couple’s sickeningly cute Christmas photo that they have been trying to perfect for the past hour. Then there was the fact that Everland was busier than rush hour on the London Tube! Probably the busiest place I’ve ever been. And everyone wanted to get on the only 2 rollercoasters in the theme park (yup, there were only 2 rollercoaster at the biggest theme park in Korea, wtf?) meaning, some people needed to miss out, the impatient, irritable people like me.
Christmas abroad is difficult if you let it get to you. It’s the one time of year when all the people you love are together and you can’t help but feel a bit left out. Especially being in another time zone and knowing everyone is asleep while you’re opening your pressies. This year has really changed my relationship with Christmas for the better. Being in a situation where making things perfect is completely out of your hands, teaches you to just roll with the punches so that’s what I did. And I realised, it’s just 24 hours… 24 hours that are over just as soon as they come about.
I got myself so stressed out this year about making the most of being away from home by doing something that I would never be able to do at home and so, I made a really big plan to do something out of the ordinary. I didn’t seem to recognise that as a form of Christmas pressure. Perhaps because Christmas pressure is something we associate with trying to cook a roast dinner for loads of people, rushing about on the 23rd December trying to finish your Christmas shopping or going to work with the fear on the Monday after your office party. But having ridiculous expectations about one tiny day of the year is just as much pressure as anything else.
Homesickness and celebrating a holiday which is important to you in a country where no one really cares is difficult enough. Kicking yourself that the Christmas Day you planned wasn’t good enough will just make you feel worse. So try to enjoy it, surround yourself with your favourite people, eat your favourite food, get merry and go with the flow! And if you don’t enjoy it, don’t worry. Everyone has days they don’t enjoy and it shouldn’t matter if that day is the 25th December or any other day.
Would I do alternative Christmas again? Yes, without a doubt. I know that this definitely won’t be my final Christmas away from home but I don’t mind as much anymore. Of course it would be lovely to spend Christmas with family and friends, drinking lots of prosecco. But I can’t have my cake and eat it. When you decide to live away from home you get to experience so many other parts of the world! This means you also miss out on things at home and this year, I feel like I’ve really learned to live with that and realised that I’m lucky in other ways. My Everland experience was annoying. Not just because it was Christmas- that would have been annoying any day of the year. The fact that it was Christmas only made it more annoying because I placed an expectation on it. I can’t write off making alternative Christmas plans just because of that. I’d love to spend Christmas by the beach one day and I’m not going to let a day at a mediocre Korean amusement park full of selfie maniacs put me off.
Did you have an alternative Christmas this year? Were you away from your family? Leave me a comment below and tell me about it!