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