your cart

Your cart is empty.

Oriental Mart

Don't have an account?

Create an account

General Articles

How is Christmas Celebrated in South Korea?

17 November 2023

South Korea is the only Asian country that recognises Christmas (or Sung Tan Jul) as a national holiday. Although Koreans will have the day off to sit back and relax with their nearest and dearest, it is not a traditional holiday like Seollal or Chuseok. 

So while Christmas isn't a holiday that inspires a lot of Koreans to travel home, it is a celebrated holiday – what do the festivities look like, and how do they compare to Western traditions? We explore the typical Christmas celebrations enjoyed in South Korea. 

If you're looking to create your very own Korean inspired Christmas this year, why not mix it up and indulge in some delicious Korean food? Here at Oriental Mart, we stock a whole range of tasty treats and authentic ingredients!

South Korea is the only Asian country that recognises Christmas (or Sung Tan Jul) as a national holiday. Although Koreans will have the day off to sit back and relax with their nearest and dearest, it is not a traditional holiday like Seollal or Chuseok. 

So while Christmas isn't a holiday that inspires a lot of Koreans to travel home, it is a celebrated holiday – what do the festivities look like, and how do they compare to Western traditions? We explore the typical Christmas celebrations enjoyed in South Korea. 

If you're looking to create your very own Korean inspired Christmas this year, why not mix it up and indulge in some delicious Korean food? Here at Oriental Mart, we stock a whole range of tasty treats and authentic ingredients!

The majority of South Korea is said to have no religion; only around 30% of the South Korean population consider themselves Christian. 

Unlike in the West, where midnight mass is a popular way for both religious and non-religious people to spend the evening before Christmas, in South Korea, church services over Christmas are primarily attended by those who follow Christianity. However, non-Christians can attend the services too if they'd like to absorb some of the season's traditions. 

For Christian Koreans, Christmas is less focused on the commercialised gift-giving holiday celebrated by many in the West and emphasises the religious stories and messages behind the season. 

Most Koreans will not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday; instead, they treat it as a day to celebrate with family or friends. However, it is not seen as an important enough traditional holiday for people to travel to their hometowns.

A model of a church at Christmas

Like other countries, the South Korean shopping districts will take full advantage of the festivities! Shops and streets are fully decked out in twinkling lights and decorations designed to encourage shoppers to get into the Christmas spirit. For example, the capital city, Seoul, is lit up at Christmas with spectacular lights, creating a magical atmosphere. 

Home decorations, such as Christmas trees and tinsel, aren't as popular as in the West. Instead, you might find traditional decorations that consist of silk slippers or drums. Unlike the West, there are fewer examples of outdoor residential decorations; many people live in multi-family apartments that offer limited space. 

Seoul at Christmas

If people do opt to celebrate with family, many may share a large meal with plenty of delicious side dishes. Instead of a traditional Western Christmas roast, you might find the table adorned with South Korean classics like , sweet potato noodles and the ever-present kimchi. 

A particular festive favourite includes tteok guk – a rice cake filled with meat or seafood and served with clear broth. The broth is said to represent a new beginning, while the circular rice cakes represent coins, symbolising prosperity for the new year's fresh start! 

Many younger Koreans may share this celebratory meal with their partners or friends and reserve New Year's Day for family. 

Another popular Christmas treat often shared between couples is a Christmas cake. In Korea, the Christmas cake shares little resemblance to the boozy Western classic. Instead, it takes inspiration from Japanese Christmas cake, decorated in freshly whipped cream and delicious strawberries.
 
While some may celebrate Christmas cosied up at home with a delicious meal, many Koreans will enjoy an evening out in a restaurant! In Seoul, Christmas buffets are sought after, and their tables are often booked well in advance to ensure they get a chance to enjoy the delicious food on offer. 

A fresh strawberry and cream cake

In Korea, Santa Claus has gained more popularity as a commercial figure to boost marketing campaigns around the holiday. Like the West, Santa is popular with children in Korea; he is recognised as Grandpa Santa, otherwise known as Santa Kullusu or Santa Haraboji, a kindly figure who hands out gifts and embodies the season's joy. 

Although he is often seen in his classic red suit, Grandpa Santa can instead be found wearing blue or green robes. Some depictions of Santa show him wearing traditional robes and a historic flat-topped hat known as a gat, which was worn during the Joseon Dynasty. 

A figure of Santa in a blue suit

In South Korea, there is less focus on gift-giving than what is traditionally expected throughout the West. 
 
If gifts are given, one of the most common gifts to give is money, which is offered on Christmas Eve. Another popular gift is entertainment, which can take the form of a musical performance or poetry reading. 

If the gift is an object, it is always given with both hands.

Exchanging presents over Christmas is slowly gaining popularity, but money remains the most popular choice. 

During the Christmas period, you can find a great range of outdoor ice-skating rinks and temporary sledging slopes based in the cities. But let's not forget that Korea is a mountainous country with many ski resorts close to Seoul! So, whether it's just for the day or over the holiday itself, resorts are a popular option for the festive season.



How do you celebrate Christmas? For many of us, Christmas is a time for family, fun and good food! If you'd like to expand your festive feast this year, check out our ingredients for some special holiday treats!

A child ice skating

Christmas gift ideas at Oriental Mart


Header Image Credit: Credit: Appleysj |

Sara Yang

This Site Uses Cookies

We and our advertising partners use cookies on this site and around the web to improve your website experience and provide you with personalised advertising from this site and other advertisers. By clicking allow, you accept the placement and use of these cookies for these purposes. Learn More

Allow
Deny