Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Holiday Void: It's Just Not the Same

Funny enough, it's that time of the year again. This year is turning out to be a bit better than last year, but it's still not the same. Being able to cook in a larger kitchen and bake things like cookies are my saving graces. Not having to work on Christmas is another big perk this year.

I can't put a finger on it, but it I don't feel completely engulfed by the Christmas spirit here. Sure, I sing carol songs to myself, watch holiday movies, and decorate--but there remains a small void. Is it family? Friends? Commercialism?

Our friends that we met up with in Germany during the summer are going to Holiday Markets in their sleepy little suburb (Solingen) this month. Do I miss the shopping? The smell? The crafting? The atmosphere? A full year later, and I still can't pinpoint why I feel the way I do about this holiday here. Either way, I wanted to re-share this original post I made last year concerning Christmas in Korea.

Our Thanksgiving turned out nicely, as you can see from the following photo. I'm not sure what my problem is, since I can clearly have a great time during a major holiday. I'm not looking for a psychoanalysis, just something to help me identify what it is that I'm missing so that I can cope with this feeling no matter where I live in the world. Given the life of a linguist (Mr. IT Guy) and archaeologist (me), living abroad is highly likely.

Originally posted on December 12, 2012:

It’s Christmas time in South Korea. And for a foreigner living here, it’s not quite like it is back home in the States. For one, there isn’t as large of a religious population here that would celebrate Christmas. It also isn’t a huge secular holiday here either. That said, you can see some inkling of the holiday, but it isn’t brought out with the sparkles and glitter like it is in the US. I’ll note some differences below, but keep in mind that this is just an observation of the differences, and I will never make a claim that one culture is better than another. (I have to put that disclaimer in there because I know someone will say I’m racist—hardly).

So, while people back home were getting ready to plan their Thanksgiving dinner preparations, Starbucks in Korea threw up their Christmas decorations on November 1. Since Thanksgiving is obviously an American tradition (though other countries have similar feast celebrations), some parts of Korea wasted no time shoving us all into the holiday spirit. American-style businesses (like Starbucks) had their halls bedecked with ornaments and garland just as Halloween concluded. Korea-based businesses (which are most of the businesses in Korea) have almost entirely skipped the decorations for Christmas. When I head into restaurants, I will occasionally see a tiny tree or a string of lights. As far as the streets are concerned, you would swear it was mid-January as they are barren of holiday spirit.

Trying to find holiday decorations has proved rather difficult for me. Costco has trees, lights, garland swags, and ornaments. If you have a membership, you will find it easy to get a full-sized tree and decorate it like you want. However, since it’s unclear how long we will stay here (a minimum of one year, but we could potentially stay longer), I didn’t want to buy a huge tree and decorations, and then have to unload it to another foreigner before we have to scoot. Also, where can you store a six foot tree in an apartment that’s only 179 square feet? (Yeah, and there’s two people living in that apartment—thank goodness I love my husband!) I managed to find some modestly-sized decorations at Daiso (like Dollar General), a Japanese company that also has stores in Korea. I bought a small 1.5 foot tree, tiny red and green ornaments (yes, with glitter!), and a sting of thin garland. It took me five minutes to decorate, but already my holiday decoration bug has been sated..well, for now at least.

Because finding holiday stuff here has been difficult, I think it might be a fruitless search to find our yearly special ornament. Every year since 2007, we have bought an ornament that encapsulates the year. You know, something which had meaning, and would easily remind us of what happened that year. I’m thinking that we might have to settle for a homemade ornament this year, since I doubt we’ll be able to find a good ornament here that has Korea on it or something. Maybe I’ll make a needle-felted flag or something. Maybe I gave up too soon. You can always find exactly what you’re looking for if you look for it long enough.

Okay, so you can’t talk about the holidays without talking about snow. Korea is a peninsula, so the air here contains more moisture than in Illinois during the winter. I was super thrilled when the weather finally got cold enough to make snow. However, I forgot that many of the walking surfaces here are made of granite instead of concrete.

Let me rewind here. During the monsoon season in Korea (roughly July through mid-August), it rained a ton. Like, everyday it rained. And the humidity was through the roof. It was so humid I couldn’t keep bouncy curls because they were limp from the moisture. Also, wet granite is like a slip-n-slide. Add in the fact that I’m super clumsy, and you get disaster. I was an accident waiting to happen the moment I walked outside and it was raining. Okay, now snow and ice are worse than water. Granite + snow = I fall down. I was carefully walking up some snow-covered granite stairs (and there was no railing either) and then, boom! I trip and cover my face, hair, mittens, and stairs with a medium sized coffee (which costs a fortune--$4 on a black coffee). I got a big ol’ bruise on my knee and forearm—both bruises are still there, the one on my knee is still a lovely green and purple color—and someone asking me if I’m okay. Really? I just fell up some stairs and smeared coffee on myself..and my knee is killing me.

Sigh. I’m just aggravated because granite looks lovely, but in a rainy country, it provides hazardous conditions. Rant over. I just wanted to point out how silly I thought it was that there is granite all over the walking surfaces here. I haven't been having a very good time here during the holidays. Things are sure to improve, right?