Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Guide to Year-End Gift-Giving Period

Dear Korean,

My boss is Korean. He, along with his wife and family, owns many formal/bridal dress shops. They fluently speak Korean and are very religious and proud. My co-workers and I are having an extremely hard time coming up with a Christmas gift for him/his family. Any suggestions?


Dear Laura,

The Korean would like to note that your email arrived on Nov. 16, before Thanksgiving! For God’s sake, can people just wait until Thanksgiving to start thinking about gift giving? What’s the rush? Right about now is a good time to think about it, so the Korean waited until now.

(Of course, now is also a time where the Korean has a little bit of break from work as well.)

The Korean will go a little off-tangent here: The Korean does not take kindly to all this “Happy Holidays” thing. It’s not because the Korean is a psycho “Christian” who thinks “Merry Christmas” is the only possible year-end greeting. It’s because thanks to Christmas, which involves gift-giving, people are forced to dig up relatively obscure holidays (e.g. Chanukah) or make one up (e.g. Kwanzaa) in order to join in the commercialism without being involved with the Christian faith.

Truth is, virtually every culture (on the Northern Hemisphere) has a year-end celebration, and Christmas is just one of them. Why does every culture have a year-end celebration? It’s the winter solstice! The sun is the most vital source of life before the advent of electricity, so the shortest-sunlight-day was very significant. Koreans are not an exception either. Winter solstice for Koreans is called dongji, and Koreans celebrate it by having red bean porridge (patjuk), because the color red repels evil spirits that occupy the long night. So tracking the day’s length, Jesus happened to be born near winter solstice and resurrected near spring equinox – how convenient is that?

Just like dongji is a relatively obscure holiday for Koreans, so was Chanukah for Jews. The most important Jewish is NOT Chanukah – it’s Yom Kippur, in which a year’s worth of sin is atoned in one day. (Or as Jon Stewart puts it, “the best deal in all of religion.” Note that Yom Kippur generally falls around autumn equinox too.) Chanukah only gets the attention it currently gets because it happens to fall about the same time as Christmas – start getting them gifts!

The Korean is sick of learning the names of 25 different winter holidays, not because the Korean doesn’t care about other culture – quite the opposite is true – but because those holidays are relatively unimportant in any given culture, and are only dug out of obscurity so that we can step away from Christianity while buying into one true religion of America – Commercialism. This actually stops people from learning different cultures – the Korean would wager that Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that many folks know, while Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah dwarf Chanukah in terms of their relative importance. So from now on, the Korean will call this holiday season thusly: the “Year-End Gift-Giving Period”.

Okay, tangent over. What is to be given to Koreans in the 2007 YEGGP? First of all, there is no set Korean gift for YEGGP. (In fact, there is no set Korean gift for ANY occasion, except maybe for a gold ring for a baby’s first birthday, seaweed soup on birthdays, and a large party on the 60th birthday. Please stop asking the Korean questions like “What do Koreans give each other for birthday/Valentine’s Day/anniversary/etc.?”)

Actually, middle-aged Korean men are very difficult to give gifts to – even Koreans themselves (usually the children of these men) have a lot of trouble buying gifts. There is one universal hobby for all Korean men – drinking. So a very common gift for Korean men is fine wine or scotch, because Koreans simply love scotch. But Laura’s boss might be the devout Christian type who may not drink, so that might not be good. Golfing is a very common hobby for Korean Americans, so something golf-related is a solid gift as well. Other good generic gift ideas are usually good for Koreans as well – that may include sweaters, tie, gift cards, and so on.

Anyone have a better idea? Please tell the Korean. He still needs to do his Year-End Gift-Giving Period shopping for everyone.

Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@hotmail.com.


  1. I totally agree with the Korean about Shopmas. And I will defer to Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, featured in the upcoming film, What Would Jesus Buy?

    I recently gave a gift membership to the Nature Conservancy to a cousin for their wedding (very belatedly, I might add, much to the chagrin of my aunt, but thats another story). I think I will go this route in the future when some sort of gift is called for. Not only does it help do good, it gives the recipient a year long reminder (in the form of newsletters, etc.) of the giver and the giver's good intentions.

    I would think a gift donation to the Korean oil spill cleanup effort would be a good place to start. Or if I might be so bold, a gift to the Peace Hospital Foundation, a non-profit started by my father to establish a Peace Hospital on/in the DMZ between N. and S. Korea. Sorry, I should have contact info, but I can't find it.

    The other gift we've been giving is our homebrew pear wine, which also comes from the heart. and doesn't taste too bad, either.

  2. For giving gifts, I always think about the recipient and what she/he/it likes or is interested in. For instance, my dad, a middle-aged Korean man, certainly likes scotch, but he also likes music, boats, history, and war movies, so in the past I've given him 1001 Historical Battles!-type books and CDs.

    I'm a big fan of gifts that can be used, eaten, or otherwise appreciated without adding to clutter and landfills: gift cards, baked goods, sponsorships (the British Library has a sponsor-a-book conservation program), donations in the recipient's name to charities, etc.

  3. I usually describe Yom Kippur as a sort of super-confessional that covers the whole year and requires fasting for 24 hours.

    My cousin (a Christian) came up with "Hanumas" to describe my mixed-marriage family's take on the holiday season. I call it that or "holiday shopping season" to reflect my cynicism towards the over-consumption.

    I don't see anything wrong with exchanging gifts in and of itself- it's the "spend ridiculous amounts of money for ultimately meaningless consumables" that is the annoying part. Smaller, more personal gifts (like my girlfriend's gift baskets or tkn's pear wine, which sounds tasty) go over very well since they are more personal than a readily purchased gift.

    I don't know if there is much I can add. You could treat him to lunch at his favorite restaurant (not gift certificates, go with him) or surprise him with a pot luck lunch (but only if most of you can cook something decent- "pot luck" turns into "pot suck" when half of the contributions are chips and soda).

  4. Anything "gol-pu" related is a pretty safe bet for a Korean "Ajushi."

  5. Ginseng tea. Socks and underwear for family. Spam gift sets.


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