I’m sitting here in my apartment in my bed on Christmas Eve and I wanted to make a special post.
I’ve been asked a few times by (mainly) Koreans as to how we celebrate Christmas at home in America. Christmas seems to be sort of comparable (as far as size and importance) as maybe St. Patrick’s Day back home.
Some people get into it, and there’s more “stuff” available this year than there was last year, but they just don’t do the commercialism aspect of it like we do. It’s also a romantic holiday here (ie: Valentine’s Day). It’s thought of to be a bit sad if you’re without a “somebody” on Christmas. Mostly department stores and coffee shops are the ones that get into it.
I wanted to start off with my own memories of Christmas at home and then sort of wrap it up with the differences. Just a reminder, but these are my own personal observations. They aren’t meant to offend anyone or…I don’t know…start some sort of internet war. Just what I’ve noticed here in my city and with my (nearly) 2 years of experience here.
Christmas has always been my absolute favorite holiday. I love the sense of warmth that it usually (minus Black Friday) brings during the middle of the frigid winter. I love seeing the lights in the trees and drinking hot chocolates…and just the anticipation that it brings.
I grew up in a split-level house (stairs at the main entrance, with a downstairs and an upstairs) and I remember that we always put up the Christmas tree together on the day (or weekend) after Thanksgiving. It was a tradition and the whole family was there together.
My mom usually baked a lot of holiday cookies (especially sugar cookies with the sprinkles on top). We had one of the artificial trees and we put it up in the living room upstairs. Every member in the family had a red and white stocking with their name written on it in cursive in colored pipe cleaner. My brother was the exception as he had a character reindeer stocking that opened up at the mouth that let Santa put in the gifts.
We kept the big box of holiday decorations in the garage behind a wooden door. We’d usually have a fire going in the fireplace downstairs with a Christmas CD in the CD player. We’d drag the box up the stairs and put the tree up (faster as we got older and wanted to be done with it)…tree then lights and garland and finally ornaments. Both my brother and myself have (my mom saved them) several handmade ornaments that we made in school. My mom also bought us each new ornaments each year at the craft shows that she liked going to.
My dad would hang the lights on the outside of the house and my mom, my brother and I would put the lights in the front bushes in front of the house.
Stores and shops were all decked out in their red, green, silver and gold and advertised sales for this and that. Christmas parties are HUGE and frequent. Secret Santa parties and Tacky Christmas Sweater parties on top of family celebrations.
I loved riding in the car and going to see all the Christmas light displays in each of the neighborhoods. It was sort of a competition to see who could deck out their house the most for Christmas. I love seeing the lights in contrast with the white snow and dark, wintry skies.
We’d also go to a light display called Santa’s Magical Kingdom
about 20-30 minutes from our house. We would all pile in the car and drive out there on a night in December. They had visits with Santa and ice skating (if I remember correctly) too.
We also visited Santa at our local mall each year. We got to sit on his lap and tell him what we wanted for Christmas. Then an “elf” would take your picture and you’d be on your way. There was a full North Pole creation at each mall…and a massive line (although I notice that more now than I did when I was a kid).
We celebrated Christmas throughout most of December at school and did Christmas activities and performances. I took dance and we always had a winter recital.
We had a week off for Christmas and New Years during elementary school, two weeks (pretty sure…) for middle school and high school. In university, we had a month off after our final exams.
I remember they’d also have horse-drawn carriage rides downtown for all the couples (or families) and you’d get to go on a small tour of downtown St. Louis in a carriage (driver and all). The top was open and they’d give you a warm blanket so you wouldn’t freeze in the winter weather.–(we usually did this when we did the Santa’s Magical Kingdom thing)
I remember also sitting on the couch in our downstairs watching Christmas movies with my family and eating Christmas cookies with milk. You also always remembered to put out Christmas cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, we’d put out the cookies and head to bed early. Later, they had the “Santa Tracker” on the news on TV, too. I remember that both my brother and I would wake up super early on Christmas morning…whoever woke up first would go wake up the other one. We’d run down the hall to the living room and examine the presents and then head downstairs to get our stockings. The stockings always had smaller gifts, like candy, chocolates or small stuffed animals.
Our parents would usually be up (because of us..ha) or we’d go wake them and urge them to hurry. We weren’t allowed to open presents unless they were both there.
I remember how LONG they seemed to take to get ready. My dad always wanted to get the camera and then my mom would joke about how we needed to eat breakfast first.
We’d open presents together as a family and then eat a special breakfast, usually French Toast, scrambled eggs and bacon. (or pancakes).
After breakfast, we’d get ready for church and attend the Christmas service. We’d come home and my mom would start on a dish to bring to my Grandma’s house for Christmas. If it was snowing, my dad would likely be outside shoveling the driveway or playing with us and our new toys.
In our family, all the aunts, uncles and cousins all get together at my Grandma’s house for Christmas (or another family member). Each family brings a dish so it isn’t all left for the host family to whip up themselves.
We’d visit my other Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas Eve and eat Christmas dinner there and open presents as well. My family from Chicago would usually come down as well and we’d celebrate together.
On Christmas Day, we’d head over to my Grandma’s around 5pm and socialize then have a massive dinner together. As a kid we’d play with our new toys and talk about what we got. We might watch a Christmas movie in her front room or play outside. As an adult, I got to have wine and play Risk, a board game (what now seems to be a tradition). We would get everyone together and take a big family picture as well.
We’d keep the tree up til early til mid-January and then start taking down all the Christmas decorations before we got back to school.
//I was going to talk in more detail about Christmas in Korea, but it’s going to have to wait. This post is long enough. 🙂
Christmas in Korea is coming soon.