Land of Kristianity

South Korea is one of Asia’s most Christian nations, with about 30 per cent of those professing a religion being members of the faith compared with 23 per cent Buddhist. Christianity arrived with fire and sword during the Japanese invasion of 1592, as many of the invaders were converted Christians. But it only took root in the 19th century thanks to China-based missionaries. Today, it is well established: the world’s largest gospel church sits in the heart of Seoul and red neon crosses illuminate the city at night. Korea boasts a variety of whacky Christian offshoots: some Korean churches blend the faith with native Shamanistic practices, such as speaking in tongues, whereas Reverend Moon Sun-myung presides over a religious-commercial empire. Up on the border, southern Christians frequently assist those escaping the clutches of a very different religion: Kim Jong-ilism.

Korean Wives Prefer Christmas to Chuseok

Salvation Army volunteers collect for the poor; couples stroll under coloured lights and Christmas trees; Santas with Asian features caper in department stores. Yes, the Korean-style Christmas departs from international norms: although religious in origin, the festival is now primarily commercial. Korea’s traditional holidays Chuseok (Thanksgiving in early autumn) and Seollnal (Lunar New Year in late winter) see exoduses to ancestral hometowns and colossal traffic jams. They are a trial for wives, who are obligated to prepare big feasts for their families. “I am more excited about Christmas than Chuseok,” says Park In-ang, 37, a Seoul Catholic, executive and mother. “It’s fun and I don’t have to prepare dishes for my husband’s family.”

Monocle 24

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