How I Survived My First Christmas in Seoul, South Korea
December 25, 2016
What was I going to do? I was going to be alone for Christmas. I had been alone before during the Christmas holiday. My last year of obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree at California State University Northridge. Which was poetic in a way because it was also the last time I lived in a dormitory. But I was in familiar surroundings. I could go to a diner and order a take-out meal.
Now, I was in another country where the custom didn’t include families getting together and enjoying a meal and the restaurants were reserved only for couples. I should mention that in South Korea they don’t celebrate Christmas as a family holiday; it’s considered a couples holiday. Family holidays are held during Chuseok and Seollal (Chinese New Year).
Now don’t get me wrong my family is not the “Brady Bunch”. But we do get together every holiday. Usually, we meet at my uncle’s house. The way it has worked for the last twenty years is the men cook the meat. We have roast beef, turkey, and a rotisserie chicken. While my aunts and cousins, the only ones who can cook, the ones that you get excited just seeing, not because it’s been a month or two since you’ve last seen them, but because of the dishes they’re holding in their hands, cook the side dishes. I always eat more side dishes than meat, our side dishes consist of potato salad, mac & cheese, red beans and rice, cornbread dressing, collard greens, sweet potato pie, chocolate chip cookies and pound cake. Pound cake that’s so good a frequent topic revolves around how it needs to be sold at the nearby supermarket.
Before we can eat at my uncle’s house he says a short prayer. He blesses the cooks and all the family being able to come together another year. Then we all get in an unorganized line and overload food onto our plates that later will put us into a food coma.
I know this tradition. I’m used to this tradition. But, what do you do when you’re thousands of miles away and you know that’s what’s happening without you? How do you stay positive without your normal yuletide cheer?
My first Christmas in South Korea was a little lonely and freezing. I’m a California girl through and through. I was experiencing a cold winter for the first time and I couldn’t get my toes to stay warm. It sucked! My only saving grace was the floor heater always needed to stay on so that the pipes didn’t freeze and I was able to stay warm inside.
It was only when I went outside that I wished I had purchased a floor-length coat and insulated rain boots. Yet every day I had to go outside to pick-up food because I didn’t have a stove top or a microwave in my dorm room.
I walked around outside and enjoyed the fresh snow that had layered the ground around the campus. It was beautiful. It was also too quiet, mostly I saw a whole lot of couples, holding hands while balancing boxes of chocolates. Their cozy, snuggling left me feeling a little homesick for the first time and also wishing that I had someone to snuggle.
I went to a nearby cafe, it was warm and they had free wi-fi. I watched inspirational podcasts like I would do any other weekend. Broadening my mind with words of wisdom and encouragement I made an early New Year’s resolution. I needed to make new friends and gather an extended family with whom I could begin new traditions.
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