How to Celebrate Christmas in South Korea (for Techies)

Christmas in South Korea
Yu-seong, a virtual character of Yu-seong-gu, a district of Daejeon, South Korea, greets visitors / Courtesy of Yu-seong-gu

The most wonderful time of the year is back. People around the world are putting up colourful, sparkly decorations at their homes and preparing gifts for their loved ones in celebration of Christmas in December.  In South Korea, where multiple religions like Buddhism and Shamanism coexist with Christianity, people’s eyes are fixed on the celebratory by-products of Christmas. People are deep diving into the meaning and the origin of the holiday and congratulating the birth of Jesus if they are Christians. Still, Christmas-themed cakes from famous bakeries get quickly sold out, shopping malls put up lights on their walls to attract customers, and cheerful carols fill the air with joy on the streets.

Social distancing profoundly impacted the holiday celebrations, changing the way Koreans have a holiday. This year’s Christmas is special in the country, as it is the first holiday free from social distancing regulations. In 2020 and 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, people would celebrate the holiday with their loved ones through Zoom calls or on metaverse platforms, like ZEPETO, a virtual avatar platform operated by NAVER Z. Some of such changes, especially with regard to technology, are here to stay this year despite the lift of regulations.

Getting Christmas Cakes at a Robot Café

Unmanned robot cafés are often spotted nationwide in South Korea, where people can order fresh coffee from robot baristas. Beat corp., a food-tech start-up that runs more than 160 robot-operated cafés in the country, is planning to sell Christmas-themed cakes and drinks at their cafés this year.

The newly launched winter drinks are Yuja tea and a strawberry latte titled “Merry Strawberry”, made by robot baristas upon orders. Customers will be able to see the robot making these drinks through a glass panel. 

The customers will be able to buy Christmas cakes from these robot cafés as well from the end of November. The baristas will be serving three types of tiramisu cake, made in collaboration with Tavalon Tea, chocolate cake and fromage blanc cheesecake, provided by Korean restaurant Vecchia & Nuovo.

The market size of service robots, like robot baristas, has gotten bigger since the outbreak of COVID-19 in South Korea, reports say, as people have avoided in-person interactions and preferred unmanned services. In 2020 alone, more than 857 billion won ($US 651 million) was transacted in the service robot market. 

Metaverse Christmas Festivals

Some local festivals are taking place on various metaverse platforms this year. As metaverse platforms like NAVER Z’s ZEPETO or Roblox allow users to build their own world where they can interact with other users in the forms of avatars, local authorities are taking their festive spirits online to reach out to a bigger audience.

Yu-Seong-gu, a district in Daejeon, South Korea, known for its public hot spring, is opening a metaverse world on ZEPETO to throw the annual Christmas festival. Open from December 1, users from any part of the world can visit Yu-Seong-gu’s online world and experience key destinations of its famous hot spring, such as the hot spring tower and foot spa. Yu-Seong, the district’s virtual character, will also be in the area to welcome the visitors.

Yu-Seong-gu’s ZEPETO world visitors can also try eating Korean winter snacks, such as Bungeoppang (fish-shaped pastry) or roasted eggs. They also can take pictures of the snowy night next to Christmas trees and snowman characters. To enter the online festival, users would have to download the ZEPETO app and type in the festival’s name in the search bar.

Similarly, Youngdoek, a city in the North Gyeongsang Province of South Korea, will hold a part of its popular annual festival, “Yeongdeok Snow Crab Festival”, on Roblox this year, from December 22 to 26. 

Major attractions will be held offline, such as live performances or snow crab taste-testing. They also included virtual reality activities, where people can wear VR goggles, drive in-water go-karts, or ride on the biggest Ferris wheel in South Korea, Yeongdeok Eye.

As for its Roblox events, the festival created worlds of well-known tourist destinations of Yeongdeok, such as Samsa Marine Park. The biggest online event of this year’s festival is the Roblox Crazy Party, which is expected to invite more people to experience festival activities. Live commerce talk shows to promote sales of local goods are slated to take place online, too.

NFT Festival on Christmas

A fair of artworks for non-fungible token sales was held to celebrate Christmas from December 9 to 11 in Hongdae, Seoul. A total of 150 artists, including the country’s biggest NFT artist community, Rhythmical NFT Club members, participated in the fair and presented the “Christmas Seal NFT Collection“, a collection of Christmas-themed post stamps. 

Alongside the NFT collection presentation, the fair held an offline exhibition of media art pieces and a flea market where people could buy NFTs or physical goods. Secret Town, an NFT-based metaverse platform developer, also brought its NFT “METAKINGZ” for sale, traded in KLAY. The company explained that METAKINGZ provides community membership with various benefits, like regular VIP invitations.

Yakgwa, one of the artists who joined the festival this year, said in the festival’s press release that the festival would be a good opportunity for people to experience NFT artworks in the real world and meet individual creators and corporations.

Also, the profit from this fair was donated to the Community Chest of Korea, a government-sanctioned charity.

Online Shopping Over Offline Shopping for Christmas Gifts

Despite the lift of social distancing regulations, many still take a trip to online shopping malls. Although choosing a good gift through online shopping, some Korean platforms are helping their customers to make better decisions with the help of artificial intelligence. 

Naver Corp., the country’s largest search engine and the parent company of NAVER Z introduced the “Smart Block” service, powered by AI, in June. The service features reviews from people who actually bought the showcased items and makes recommendations based on seasonal demands, such as Christmas.

In making time-sensitive, seasonal recommendations of items, the service demonstrates two shopping categories: “Frequently purchased around this time of the year” and “Popular now”. 

The former show items based on the keywords that users searched for during similar time periods in the past. For example, if a user types “weather” in the search bar in Summer, the engine lists items like a fan or short-sleeved shirts. 

On the other hand, the “Popular now” category recommends various goods purchased around the holiday seasons in previous years. For example, from 14 days before a holiday season, Christmas, the engine provides relevant keywords to help customers navigate through.

Bonus: Christmas Personality Test

Christmas-themed personality tests are gaining traction this year in South Korea. One of the most noticeably popular tests is “Find Your Christmas Character“, which asks users to answer a series of questions and diagnoses their characters (or personality types) based on their choices. The test describes what kind of person they are and tells the most and least compatible personality types in its results.

Just like how they did when doing a similar Christmas-themed personality test that gained attention amidst the pandemic in 2020, people seem to share the test results on social media to discuss them with their relations online. 

Sunny Um is a Seoul-based journalist working with 4i Magazine. She writes and talks about policies, business updates, and social issues around the Korean tech industry. She is best known for in-depth explanations of local issues for readers who need a better understanding of the Korean context. Sunny’s works appeared in prominent Korean news outlets, such as the Korea Times and Wired Korea. She currently makes regular writing contributions to newsrooms worldwide, such as Maritime Fairtrade, a non-profit media organization based in Singapore. She also works as a content strategist at 1021 Creative. A person who holds a Master’s degree in Political Economy from King’s College London, she loves to follow up on news of Korean politics and economy when she’s not writing.