How Is Christmas Celebrated in Korea? With Motels, Condoms and the Pill

South Korean volunteers in Santa Claus outfits throw Santa hats during a ceremony before the delivery of Christmas gifts in Seoul, South Korea, on December 24. For some South Koreans, Christmas is almost like Valentine's Day. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

For some South Koreans, Christmas is more than just a time to celebrate the birth of Christ.

While the spirit of the holidays has taken over Seoul with red and white ornaments, its residents apparently don't want the hottest items of the season. Instead, birth control pills, condoms, sexy lingerie and motel reservations are what South Koreans yearn for during this season, even if prices are higher than usual at this time of year, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Turns out, the meaning of Christmas has changed over time. In the 19th century, a group of American missionaries introduced the celebration. In 1945, when only 2 percent of the population was Christian, the U.S. military, during its three-year rule, declared Christmas a public holiday, following the end of Japan's colonization of Korea. While Christmas family gatherings were enforced by the nighttime curfews at the time, Korean families already got together during two holidays—the Lunar New Year and the mid-autumn harvest festival.

For a nation that has dozens of megachurches that attract thousands of Christians—and with the largest Pentecostal congregation in the world—Christmas is actually regarded as a secular lovers' holiday (almost like Valentine's Day). The Times noted that convenience stores sold more condoms on Christmas Day than at any other time of the year—more than two and a half times as many as on an average day.

Rent-by-the-hour motels are also in high demand, especially on Christmas Eve. In the past, other hotels had provided romantic getaways and special packages, which sometimes had to be reserved months in advance, that included cheese platters, Christmas cakes, red wine and jazz performances, Forbes reported in December 2017.

"Society and social media ads reinforce that," a college student told the Times.

When asked why Christmas was more about romance and less about celebrating with family members, experts told Forbes that "the foreign culture of the Christmas as a secular and commercial culture arrived in Korea and settled well before Christianity or the spirit of Christianity has settled as an essential part of the Christian lifestyle." For some Koreans, Christmas "reflects a feature of the American society, freedom, desire for the Western modernity and an extreme commercialism involving expensive brands and upmarket department stores," according to Forbes.

Seoul's neighbor, however, has taken a different approach. Last year, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un banned Christmas in 2016 and, in 2017, he prohibited gatherings that involved alcohol and singing, according to South Korea's National Intelligence Service. Two years ago, Kim banned the few Christians who still lived in the country from celebrating Christmas and instead told them to celebrate his grandmother, Kim Jong-suk, who was born on Christmas Eve in 1919, according to local reports.