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Expat X-mas in Seoul

During holiday seasons, expats, living far from home and from their families, fall into nostalgic depressions and experience bouts of major homesickness.

This is no surprise. Often, the customs and traditions of the adopted home are so different, that Thanksgiving, NYE or Halloween, feel completely alien. In Korea, for example, Christmas holidays are not for families, but for couples or friends.

This is so much the case that my Korean friend Bo-yeon told me if she’s home on Christmas day, her parents will chide her. “Don’t you have any friends? Where’s your boyfriend?” No, she definitely has to be OUT, doing something, not sitting around a Christmas tree opening presents with her family, as we’re used to in the west.

Celebrating Christmas at the Taj Mahal in 2012

Celebrating Christmas at the Taj Mahal in 2012

On the flip side, every festive season, we get to create our very own version of the holidays. The results can be radically different from year to year, depending on who happens to be around. Expats seem to have this bad habit of disappearing, reappearing, or taking off at a moment’s notice, and our friend Sara, is no exception.

After 4 years off and on here in Korea, she’s moving on to Tel Aviv, but not before spending the holidays with me, and teaching us a little bit about Hanukkah, the role of the special menorah and the Miracle of Lights.


The Miracle of Lights commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple following the Macabee victory over the Seleucids in the 2nd Century, BC. According to Rabbinic tradition, a small jug of oil found in the Temple, lasted for a miraculous 8 days, though it had only enough oil in it to stay lit for a single day.

Thus, every Hanukkah, Jews around the world celebrate by eating meals full of fried food, giving gifts and lighting a special 9-branched menorah for 8 consecutive days in a row.

This year, Christmas dinner was a very international affair, with friends from France, Germany, America and Korea gathering together. Dinner was very French, courtesy of our friend from Strasbourg, with lots of saucy dishes, a roasted chicken and cheesy gratin. To say that we were in a serious cream coma by the end of the night would be an understatement.

For the first time, since we got married, Agri and I are on opposite corners of the globe. He’s home with his family in Canada, and I’m here in Seoul, all by my lonesome. It’s strange and weird, but not overly lonely, thanks to some wonderful friends who are making sure I don’t chew off my arm from heartache.

I hope you had a holiday season as wonderful as mine. ๐Ÿ™‚


Have you ever celebrated Christmas far from home? What did you do?

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. We always celebrate Christmas at home or near my home with family and close relatives.

    December 26, 2014
    • How lovely to be able to celebrate with close family during the holidays. As an expat, it’s really the only time I feel a little bit homesick, but I think more so this year, because hubby is far away. Happy holidays! ๐Ÿ™‚

      December 27, 2014
  2. L #

    very nice post! merry christmas !!

    December 26, 2014
  3. Beautiful photos! And a very merry Christmas to you ๐Ÿ™‚

    December 26, 2014
  4. Girl Gone Expat #

    Funny to hear Christmas Day is a day for going out with friend in South Korea. Back home you are not even supposed to visit anyone on this day, it is definitely a day for staying home with family:)
    We have spend one Christmas in Mexico and one in Canada – felt strange not to be home for Christmas, but being two it was not too bad:)

    December 27, 2014
    • I thought it was very strange as well when I found out, but I think maybe because so much centres around family here, that holidays become more for couples. Oooh Christmas in Mexico sounds divine! I’d love to be lying on a beach right about now. Happy holidays!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      December 27, 2014
  5. A big hug!!!!!

    December 27, 2014
  6. This year was the first Christmas spent without family around us. It was enjoyable with friends, but not quite the same. Lovely photos. ๐Ÿ™‚

    December 27, 2014
  7. It must be hard to be apart for the holidays. Good thing your adopted home has a seasonal tradition with friends.
    Last year was our first Christmas away. We spent it in Cambodia and had Mexican for dinner instead of paying the huge price for a traditional turkey dinner. It didnt feel like Christmas though despite the trees and dectoations. Christmas is meant to be cold and a hope for snow. This year we took the long trip and came home. No snow, but lots of yummy food and time with family an

    December 28, 2014
    • It’s funny how our idea of Christmas gets so conditioned by what we do when we’re kids. Honestly, my family doesn’t celebrate it too much, so for me, it’s always been mostly about taking a vacation somewhere warm! ๐Ÿ™‚ This year feels weird for sure though, cuz Agri and I are apart… def not very happy about that. Hope your having a wonderful snowy Christmas!! ๐Ÿ˜€

      December 28, 2014
      • Hi Shelly…. mild and snow free Christmas here in Canada. Colder temps keep getting forecasted, but it has stayed above average. Nice, but I haven’t seen snow in so long it would have been nice for a little snow. I agree Christmas for us was all about the traditional movies and family. Last year was great to be away, but not Christmas since family wasn’t there.

        December 29, 2014
        • Weather is a bit weird these days, eh? Definitely changes afoot all over the world. It’s relatively warm in Seoul, which is nice, but also a bit scary. I think it should be colder right now, AND there should be snow in Canada right now…

          December 30, 2014
          • The last few years we haven’t seen much snow in December, so expected it to be green. The warmer temps surprised me. How quickly things change…. Colder weather came in yesterday with few flurries. Today was really chilly-14c with wind chill tonight. Brrr

            December 31, 2014
  8. With my line of work, I’ve gotten so used to spending holidays away from home. I always spend it with friends just like this week.

    December 29, 2014
    • While it’s nice to live all over the world, and experience different countries, there are definitely particular times of the year when I think it would really really be nice to live close to family…but it’s true, you definitely get used to it. Where’s the best place you’ve been at Christmas time?

      December 30, 2014
  9. Good pictures – nice info! Thanks and Happy New Year.

    December 30, 2014

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