I made it through my first Christmas and New Year’s abroad! Some truly strange and unexpected memories were made:
The Eve of Christmas, I happened to eat dinner in an Indian restaurant with a large group of mostly American friends. We immediately brought the volume of the dimly lit place up to the level of a classroom of third graders.
In Korea, Christmas is basically a couples holiday. People don’t spend time with their families, they go out on dates. So basically everyone else in the restaurant was trying to have a romantic dinner. And mostly failing, thanks to us.
Then, just as my friend said, “Man, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve,” Santa arrived! Short, jolly, decked out in a full red and white suit and sunglasses. There was no “ho ho ho,” he just pulled out little toffees from a huge bag and silently handed them out to everyone.
At first I was genuinely confused about who this dude was. Was it some random person off the street? Should I be wary about eating these toffees? Then he said “Merry Christmas” with an Indian accent, I realized he worked at the restaurant. (The guy sitting across from me could not stop laughing.)
When Indian Santa took off his sunglasses to snap a photo of my table, he ceased to be so mysterious.
Since Christmas was on a Sunday, I basically spent all of Christmas at church, which was awesome. We had the normal prayer meeting, lunch, and service that morning/afternoon, and then we had a banquet to honor our leaders that evening. Didn’t feel a whole lot like Christmas (I kept reminding myself that it was indeed Christmas Day), but it was a fun, intimate time. (There are a ton of talented, hilarious people at my church.)
It was a little strange to me, though, to leave church for a few hours before the banquet and find the rest of Seoul operating like normal. I stopped by a department store with some friends (and bought a shirt for myself), and it seriously could have been any other day––people were just shopping and working like normal. So weird.
New Year’s Eve
As far as I can tell, New Year’s celebrations are pretty similar all around the world––in Taipei, there was no ball drop, but there were hours of musical performances followed by a spectacular fireworks display.
My personal experience of the holiday, however, was very different than the norm.
First of all, I didn’t have a drop of alcohol. And I didn’t even think about it until me and my friends were making our way home and started running into drunk people in the street. I’m not a big drinker (obviously), but usually a few homemade cocktails are part of welcoming in the new year, so that was different.
Second, I have never celebrated outside before––usually I just watch the outdoor celebration on TV (on mute) while playing games/talking in a heated house. It was fun being outside, though, especially because me and my friends weren’t in the main square where we would have had to stand all night (and where our ears would have been completely blasted out, rather than only mildly traumatized). We had seats, good views of the screen, and plenty of street food nearby.
The funniest moment of the night was when we passed three random people lying in the middle of the street on the way home (literally lounging on a crosswalk of what is normally a heavily trafficked street, but had been turned into a pedestrian street for the evening) and my friend convinced me that we should do the same.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! When else will you be able to lie in the street?” (Better question: Why would anyone want to lie in the street?)
But yes, we lay down in the middle of the street and took photographic evidence. And doing something so utterly ridiculous was pretty fun.