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Pandemic Christmas creates new traditions

Family activities replace partying as people observe social distancing rules

A wall Christmas tree is decorated with Kang family photos. (Courtesy of Kang Eun-mi)
A wall Christmas tree is decorated with Kang family photos. (Courtesy of Kang Eun-mi)

Kang Eun-mi who lives in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, decorated her living room with a wall Christmas tree for the first time in almost a decade this year.

Her two 20-something daughters, who live with her and her husband, typically go out with their friends at Christmas, but this year, they are all staying at home together.

“I ordered the kit online to make a wall Christmas tree that comes with lights, which was delivered the next day. Our family selected family photos from old albums together to hang on the tree,” Kang said. “We had stopped doing the Christmas tree thing as my daughters grew up. The new Christmas tree reminds me of the old days, and I get comfort seeing the blinking lights in the difficult pandemic times.”

Although Christmas is celebrated as a religious holiday by many Christians in Korea, young people usually consider the holiday as a time for couples and merrymaking with friends. The pandemic, however, appears to have changed all that, as people stay at home as part of social distancing

Ju Hee-jin, a 31-year-old Seoul resident, hosted events with friends at restaurants on previous Christmases, gathering nearly 100 people. For the first time since her high school years, she will be spending Christmas with family -- cooking, watching Harry Potter movies together and writing Christmas cards to each other.

“I will cook basil pesto pasta for my parents, which they loved the last time I cooked it. We will also write Christmas letters to each other. It may sound a little cheesy but I know they will love it,” Ju said.

While Korea’s major holidays -- Chuseok and Seollal -- are focused on older generations, Christmas is something that is usually celebrated by younger people, which is why it can be a good holiday to spend with family more casually, some people say.

“Some say Christmas is Western culture and are against celebrating the holiday. But it actually can be a good time for many families in Korea, enjoying it different ways from Chuseok or Seollal, spending time more casually with children and doing something fun together,” said Gwak Geum-ju, a professor of the department of psychology at Seoul National University. 

Christmas cookies baked by Shin Yu-ha and her family (Courtesy of Shin Yu-ha)
Christmas cookies baked by Shin Yu-ha and her family (Courtesy of Shin Yu-ha)

For some families, baking cookies has become a new Christmas tradition. Shin Yu-ha, a college student, baked Christmas cookies for the first time with her family last weekend. When she suggested that her younger brother and father do it together, they refused at first. But they slowly began to show interest, joining in decorating the cookies.

“We used to have our own schedules at Christmas, but celebrating Christmas with family is a lot more fun than I expected,” said Shin. “I think it will become our new tradition. We will do it next year too to make good memories as a family.”

As more people spend Christmas at home, sales of interior decorations, including Christmas trees and ornaments, increased greatly compared to last year. According to online shopping outlet G Market, sales of Christmas trees in December increased 101 percent on-year as of Dec. 23. The demand for Christmas decorations, including Christmas tree ornaments, candles and lights, has also risen. 

A Christmas wreath by Kim Yu-na (Courtesy of Kim Yu-na)
A Christmas wreath by Kim Yu-na (Courtesy of Kim Yu-na)

Kim Yu-na, the owner of Yuchohwa, a flower shop in Seoul, said that although flower sales had decreased due to the pandemic, she is seeing a rise in the number of male customers ahead of Christmas who order a Christmas wreath to give to their wives or girlfriends as a gift to decorate their home.

“The other day, a customer ordered a Christmas wreath saying he wanted to give it to his wife, who is staying at home due to the pandemic, as a Christmas gift,” Kim said. “It is surprising that many people are seeking Christmas wreaths this year. I didn’t expect Christmas wreaths to be this popular.”

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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