An Unconventional Holiday

couple christmas photos

When you hear ‘Christmas’, imagery of decorated houses, strewn Christmas lights, cinnamon candles burning, cookies in the oven and a constant flow and family and friends typically comes to mind. It probably comes as no shock that Christmas in Korea looks quite a bit different. Although we celebrate it as a time to draw close to family and friends and celebrate Christ’s birth; for Koreans, it’s the most romantic and date driven day of the year. If you have a special someone in your life, Christmas Eve and Christmas are celebrated much like Valentine’s Day in the States. There are even some popular areas in Seoul and Busan that shut off all the lights at midnight on Christmas so couples can kiss in the dark.

So what does Christmas look like for us? Not quite the same as back home but something that I have grown to love all the same. I try to keep all the traditions I can from back home such as homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning like my dad makes every year, or making homemade decorations since they can be expensive and hard to find here. But there is one thing that I actually love about being an expat in a different country during Christmas and that’s being disconnected. Disconnected from the ads, the crowds and the commercialized version of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with all of this, I’ve just been able to view it from an outsiders perspective. And I’ve grown to just enjoy getting back to the root of what the holiday means to me, without all of the other distractions that are so easy to fall into. All the ads plastered everywhere promoting the latest and greatest, parents stressed out to try and pay for a Christmas their kids will love and the pressure to buy buy and impress.

Living in Korea, Jeremy and I have been able to lead a much more simplistic lifestyle compared to back home. Most of our disposable income is spent on travel, majority of our furniture was found in the trash (ok, this is a little extreme for most I agree), and many things are not available here so we’ve learned to live without many of the products and conveniences of home (although we never complain when boxes full of American goodies get sent in the mail). It’s been a sort of big ‘reset’ button on our thinking towards spending, need vs. want and how we view consumerism. And these views have followed into the holidays. Living in Korea has shown us that you don’t need a fully decorated apartment, pile full of gifts under the tree, or many other things that signify ‘Christmas’ in the States to truly have a great holiday. What’s most important to us is time spent with those you love, enjoying holiday traditions while making new ones of your own and most importantly to Jeremy and me is celebrating the birth of Christ. All you need at Christmas are the ones you care about…and peppermint hot chocolate never hurt either. I hope you all have a great Christmas and get to celebrate with the ones you love!


  • KaleenasKaleidoscope

    Totally agree with appreciating being disconnected from the commercial aspect of Christmas. Even though I missed home like crazy, it was great to be able to choose which holiday traditions my friends and I wanted to continue this year. It certainly put a new perspective on the holidays and made me appreciate certain aspects of Christmas that much more! Oh, and I’ve totally found furniture in the trash, too. No shame! haha

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      It’s so refreshing to find so many people with the same mindset! Christmas is so laid back overseas and while being away from home sucks, it does have its advantages! Oh and I am beyond shocked at what people throw away!

  • Anna

    That’s a really sweet tradition with the lights turning out. We have a similar tradition in Poland (where I’ve spent the last few Christmases) and it’s a simpler and gifts are a lot more about token gestures than big expensive things, although this year I’ve LOVED the Christmas markets. That picture is lovely. Merry Christmas to you both !

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      that’s awesome,i think that i would really like that. gifts being more of gestures than costing a lot of money

  • Leah S.

    Sounds wonderful! I am hoping that our family can continue to stay focussed on the important parts of Christmas rather than be sucked into the consumerism. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas in Korea! Take of advantage of all the romance!

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      it’s hard when you’re surrounded by materialistic ads! i’m really hoping that we can continue this even when we’re back in the states!

  • Jamie

    you two are adorable :) in Taiwan they “celebrate” Christmas, but I think it’s mostly an excuse to decorate and put up lights and have sales. to be honest I haven’t noticed if they go nuts with ads because I can’t read/don’t pay attention to that here. being abroad definitely means appreciating learning to live with less, you hit that right on the head. Merry Christmas, friend :)

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      awe thanks dear : ) that’s kind of how it feels here. there are some lights and some trees but i feel like it’s just because thy have seen it in movies than a part ingrained in their culture.

  • Erika

    First off — what a totally cute picture! Ahhh! :DDDD

    Secondly, how cute about traditions in S. Korea! I like the lights-out aspect!

    Thirdly, yes, I feel you on the consumerism part. Actually, Thanksgiving upset me in that regard this year… every year, “Black Friday” gets earlier and earlier. It’s like, 8pm now on Thursday night… it’s like, can we get ANYTHING? Was 5am the next day not enough? LET US BE WITH OUR FAMILIES AND ENJOY IT!

    I’ve done Black Friday once or twice, but never with a plan. It was as a fun thing on the next morning to look for a couple of deals. But I didn’t go out this year because I just felt like it was so intrusive! I was so, just, put off by it all.

    Anyway, maybe it’s being a poor grad student or whatever, but this year, I am being very minimalist with Christmas (same for last year, my first as a grad student). I did Christmas cards, but that’s pretty much the extent with the exception of my boyfriend… and I have to say, I kind of like it. At least for this year, it works for me. And I’m looking forward to just enjoying this time as a reflective period and being grateful for what I have. This was one of the first years in my life where I didn’t really want for much — I have what I want. I am blessed! :)

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      awe thanks so much! i can’t stand the whole black friday gig. it used to be fun when i was younger, kind of a ‘girls day out’ with friends and family. but it’s gone too far in my opinion. save the holidays for friends and family, not shopping.
      i love the minimalistic holidays and it’s something i hope we can continue even when we are back home!

  • Kate Mothes

    This is so wonderful 😀 It’s so good to keep traditions from home in mind, but making new ones is what makes the holidays more and more wonderful. Merry Christmas!!


    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i couldn’t agree more! i love the traditions that we have started on our own!

  • Erin @ Traveling Techies

    I think we’re going to have an awesome Christmas Eve & Christmas! I’m so excited! :)

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels


  • Chantal

    Love this! Christmas for us this year will be spent in the hotel, without our own tree or even any presents. But it isn’t so bad!

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      gotta roll with the punches eh? ; )

  • Sarah Shumate

    Amen, sista! This is how we’ve done Christmas for the past 3 or so years and I’ve LOVED it. I do not miss the consumerism side to Christmas one bit! I hope ya’ll have a good one!!

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      it’s so much better than i ever thought! i don’t miss the crowds and commercials one bi!

  • Caroline L.

    Not going to lie, that sounds pretty much like a dream come true! Of course, I love a good Western Christmas, but it sounds like you guys really and intensely get the true meaning of Christmas better than the rest of us right now! And the Korean Christmas sounds so sweet and romantic! Happy Holidays!

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i know i’ll enjoy western christmas’s when we have them again but part of me hopes that from now on they are much simpler like what we have in korea : _

  • Marisha Bailey

    This is all so true and something I have realized in the past few years. I actually wrote a similar post on my blog about it! :)

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      great minds think alike ; )

  • Casey

    You’re so right, sometimes the disconnect is amazing. You can really see it from an outside perspective. I grew up that way and even now, I sort of keep myself disconnected from that as much as I can. And as well, you’re adding a new country’s traditions to your life that will probably always be a part of you so that’s pretty amazing too!

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      exactly. i always had the’big’ christmas’s and i never realized how nice it can be to celebrate it in another way.

      • Casey

        I think that’s so interesting because i never grew up having the big family Christmases because we were across the world, so even now, I still love a quiet holiday!

  • Amy | Club Narwhal

    I really love this, Chelsea. We’ve been trying to focus on simplifying our entire lives but especially holidays. While I do love an all-out Christmas (like Buddy the Elf’s transformation of Gimbel’s), it has been really nice to take a step back and revel in the things that really matter during the holidays. This year we gave ourselves just two gifts–our annual family yearbook (a photo book with all our adventures during the year) and a trip to visit family. It’s turning out to be pretty blissful :)

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i agree, both aspects can be nice but i much prefer the simpler holiday now that it’s what we’re accustomed to!

  • Alison Pirtle

    I agree, it’s been so nice being away from all the crazy commercialism! I feel like I am living a much more modest, simpler life in Korea and am really enjoying enjoying the little things this Christmas.

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      this is just something that i hope continues for years to come even if we’re not living in korea!

  • Sarah

    I totally agree with you that you learn to live without a lot of things when you travel. I think that’s how you become a better person learning to adapt to your new environment. I stayed in Peru for couple of months and lived with just the basics. And with less choices, even the morning what should I wear today routine gets easier to figure out.

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      haha that is the perk of having less clothes! we’re getting ready to move and i threw away at least a third of the clothes i had here. i don’t know why i had so many when i lived back home!

  • Z K

    Wow, that’s such a good point I never thought about. When I traveled abroad in Europe last fall, there were definitely decorations and so forth, but it wasn’t nearly as big of a “deal.” When we went to see the Christmas tree lighting in Prague, the whole thing took maybe five minutes as opposed to the two hour /show/ and bonanza that’s the Boston tree lighting. So refreshing.

    • Chelsea @ Lost in Travels

      i miss home during the holidays but there’s always a silver lining in every situation!