Christmas in Korea

Christmas (/Eve) in Korea!

Image by GilloD via Flickr

Christmas here in Korea was different in many ways from our previous celebrations at home. Tuesday evening before Christmas, the children participated in a pageant at the Seoul Union (English) Church. Their “joy” gift consisted of five pounds of rice, each to be distributed to orphanges, needy families, etc.

Christmas Eve, the Korean Christians paraded in the streets in large groups, carrying paper lanterns lighted by candles and decorated with red crosses. They sang Christmas carols as they marched. At ten thirty P.M., they congregated in the vari­ous churches for a two-hour worship and carol service. After this service a special supper was served of Duck Kook (which is a soup, highly seasoned, and “laced” with duck, or bread, pieces). Also served was kimchi rice, rice cakes, fruit, and per­haps benne or ginger candy. We were surprised (and pleased) that the Koreans use a lot of benne seed in their candy and cookies. This reminds us of our Charleston cookery. I made Christmas cookies with South Carolina benne seed brought from home. After this heavy midnight snack, they again car­oled until the four thirty A.M. (daily) early prayer service. Usu­ally, another service is held on Christmas morning at eleven o’clock. Homer Rickabaugh, our missionary boarder, attended the Christmas Eve celebration. We, however, listened to the magnificent combined Korean choirs singing The Messiah in English, broadcast by the Christian Radio Station here in Seoul.

Christmas Eve each Christian home can be “identified” by a paper (cross) lantern, hanging on the gatepost. We followed this custom. Many banks, YWCA, YMCA, churches, schools, businesses of Christians-all were decorated by numerous lanterns, which could be seen for blocks. Since there are few street lights in Seoul (perhaps due to the shortage of electricity), the lamp light “gave off” an added light which seemed to signify that Jesus Christ IS THE Light of the World! Joy to the world! In a heathen culture (less than 5 per cent Christian of 30,000,000 people) this simple custom is a “witness” in itself.

Christmas morning, the Seoul Union Church had an eleven o’clock service. John and Virginia Somerville and their three boys ate Christmas dinner with us. We also invited three American soldiers and a bachelor civilian friend. We had de­licious baked ham this year, which is a rare treat in Korea, and a South Carolina fruit cake (a rare treat anywhere)!

Here in Seoul, many Christmas cards and gifts were sold. I fear some of our “commercialism” has spread to Korea. Many non-Christians celebrate Christmas here much as they do at home (but in a much different way from the Christians here).  Koreans, although very poor, are great “gift givers.” We were given numerous dolls and brassware this year. I wish there were some way to “graciously refuse” these gifts. We know how little most of these students and Korean friends have-and yet, they would be deeply offended if we refused their gifts and denied them the pleasure of “giving.” We were very happy not to receive the usual gift of a “live chicken” on foot. (This gift is especially popular for friends departing on planes, trains, etc., I’m told.)

Sergeant Rayene Stewart Simpson decorating a C...

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Many of our American servicemen “shared” their Christ­mas with the thousands of orphans in Korea and Japan. This generous giving to the orphans is a tremendous “witness” and a strong “binder” for friendship for America (which we cer­tainly need in this world of turmoil). Until we came to Korea, I never fully appreciated our UN troops (and especially our Army troops) stationed up in “no man’s land”-just along the Thirty-eighth Parallel. They keep a twenty-four-hour vigil -so we, here in South Korea, and you at home, may have peace and security. We certainly owe them a debt of gratitude. Theirs is a lonely, bleak existence-and they didn’t come by choice. They certainly need our prayers and letters from home.

Before Christmas, we gave a dinner party for the language class. It was a new experience for the language teacher and Joe’s tutor, to eat our American food. They seemed to have special trouble with the tomato juice cocktail but were too proud not to drink it (in spite of our protests). Both men had beautiful voices-we enjoyed singing Christmas carols and listening to records after dinner.

-From a letter by Miss Helen Cameron, January 3, 1960 (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.)

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