The night was cold and crisp and I could feel the biting chill of the wind against my face as I walked to the busy entertainment district surrounding Jeju City Hall. Winter’s here and that means Christmas is just around the corner. Camera in hand, I hoped to capture Jeju’s holiday spirit.
The island and its people don’t celebrate Christmas like North Americans. No endless strings of brightly colored lights draped across roofs and windows. No artificial snow sprayed around piles of presents. No Christmas music hanging in the air. Turkey dinners are a rare sight. But, there are hints of Christmas all around, you just have to look a little harder to find them.
As I made my way through the streets and alley ways of the area, I passed a small, unassuming craft shop and caught something in the corner of my eye: a beautiful, handmade Santa doll hanging from a rope just inside the door. A family of dolls dressed in their Christmas finest competed for my attention on the wooden deck of another shop nearby.
I rounded a corner and headed down the area’s main street. On my right I spotted a bakery through the crowd of shoppers that streamed past me, its display cases filled with colorful Christmas cakes. Just a few meters away, the ring of Salvation Army bells filled the air as people slipped coins into a box, a familiar sight in North American cities this time of year.
Everywhere I looked there were signs of the holiday season: trees covered in decorations, wreaths, and messages on signs wishing everybody a merry Christmas. As a cheerful young woman with a Santa hat perched on her head rushed past me, I realized that Christmas is alive and well in Jeju, it’s just not as “in-your-face” as it is back home.
In many ways that’s a blessing.
Douglas MacDonald is a Canadian-born English teacher and freelance photographer. He has spent 10 years documenting life and landscapes in South Korea. He is a Getty Images Artist. You can see more of his work at flickr.com/photos/dmacs_photos.
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