Before arriving in Korea, I wasn’t exactly sure how this country would handle the “Holiday Season”. It’s hard to envision what an alternative to the hyper-commercialized American Christmas experience would be. Do families spend thousands of dollars and hours creating elaborate light decorations on their front lawns? Is every ubiquitous K-Pop song replaced with ubiquitous carols and holiday tunes? And most importantly, do Santa Claus and his reindeer posse make a stop on the Korean peninsula?
This past weekend I found out that not just one Santa makes an appearance in the R.O.K. this time of year, but on Saturday, December 10th, droves of them descended upon the streets of Sinchon and Hongdae (and the number 2 subway line) for Santacon, the annual Santa Claus-themed bar crawl.
Approximately 200 young, drunken foreigners and Koreans donned red, white, and cheer to celebrate our favorite bearer of gifts and joy and his unique attire. Santacon events took place all over the world this year, from New York City to London to Auckland, and this was the fourth year Seoul has hosted its own Santacon. As with any subcultural event taking place in this age of social media, most people found out about the details of Santacon through Facebook. The event began at Beer-O-Clock in Sinchon, and ended at Ho Bar III in Hongdae (a perfectly titled bar for the occasion!), where dozens more Santas were already waiting.
There was a wide range of costume choice, from full-on Santa suits to reindeer headbands. And of course, what themed-bar crawl extravaganza would be complete without a bevy of ho, ho, hos! After about an hour of schmoozing and boozing, the event organizers led the train of Santas to the Sinchon subway station. The sea of red that soon flooded the narrow streets of this young neighborhood in Seoul was an unbelievable sight. Droves of red hats with white cotton balls marched through the city, singing songs and bringing joy to curious Korean onlookers. Our procession snaked its way to the station, where our group straddled a very fine line between obnoxious and absolutely wonderful. There were group leaders acting as traffic control officers (of course dressed in their Santacon gear as well), guiding hundreds of Santas to the subway and through the maze of angry ajummas. The sea of red somehow made its way to the subway platform, and the entire station was congested with holiday cheer. Spontaneous caroling ensued, and the group broke out in song after song, with such enthusiasm you’d think all the participants spent most of their days with schoolchildren.
The best moments of the whole experience were the reactions from Korean onlookers, who either enthusiastically snapped photos of the crazy, costumed-foreigners or tried their best to ignore the commotion and pay attention to their smart phone screens. The singing continued in the subway cars—all of them were filled with Santas—in the spirit of Christmas caroling, on our long, 4 minute subway ride. Once arriving in Hongdae, groups of Santa friends managed to find one another and continue Santaconning all night long.
2012′s Santacon event is this Saturday the 8th of December in Seoul, starting at Beer O’Clock in Sinchon. .
Words and pictures by Julia Bass. Check out her blog Bassen Your Seatbelt, and don’t forget to follow her on .