Christmas
in North
Korea

Does Christmas in North Korea exist...? You may see Christmas trees dotted around, but that might not necessarily mean much...

Neither Christianity nor capitalism are big in North Korea, so what exactly does Christmas in North Korea look like? 

You may see Christmas trees dotted around, but that might not necessarily mean much... Does a DPRK Christmas even exist? 


Christmas in North Korea

My first Christmas in North Korea was a bizarre one. And, for someone that loves Christmas (yup, I'm one of those - never grew out of it), highly disappointing. 

My Christmas breakfast consisted not of chocolate and champagne (we all do that, right?), but instead the usual cold toast, hard butter, oily egg and questionably bright coloured jam. Christmas dinner was... Pyongyang cold noodles? Together, of course, with an ambitious amount of side dishes that no one can finish (kind of like Christmas in that respect, I guess!) and there was definitely a lot less awkward family moments, no present unwrapping, and no drunken distant relatives causing drama. 

In short, Christmas in North Korea is pretty non-existent. In fact, it's so non-existent, that the one time I spent Christmas in North Korea I asked the others on the tour why they had come during the festive period, and almost all of them said it was exactly to escape the festive period, and escape Christmas. 

I quickly put back my bag of Christmas hats I'd prepared for everyone and slowly removed mine from my head. I wasn't going to force Christmas on a group that came here actively to avoid it..! 

Nevertheless, there are aspects of Christmas in North Korea you can see dotted around. (And I did make them wear the hats later.)

North Korea is probably one of the few countries that Christmas isn't celebrated at all. Most of the population will have never heard of Santa Claus and you don't have to fear going into a shop for hearing another round of 'Jingle Bells'. This is mainly due to the fact that Christianity isn't practised in North Korea and capitalism hasn't quite taken off, so you won't be rushing for the boxing day sales in Pyongyang any time soon. And yet, the one aspect of Christmas that has managed to wiggle its way into the DPRK are decorations. Bizarre, but kind of understandable! 

Any building, restaurant or cafe in North Korea is decorated in its own unique way. Aesthetics are very important in this country full of such unique architecture. So why not borrow the decorative element of Christmas and put up some Christmas lights, decorations and Christmas trees. And if it looks good - why not keep it up all year round! 

Yup, that's right. Head over to North Korea in December and you'll probably see a couple of Christmas trees dotted about the hotels and restaurants. Head to North Korea in March, and you might just see the exact same thing. Either the staff have understood the benefit of not taking down Christmas decorations just to put them back up again 12 months later, or they don't associate such decorations with the specific time of the year. 

Either way, it makes for some festive fun all year round! 


Other Countries that Don't Celebrate Christmas

It's not just North Korea that doesn't celebrate Christmas. 

According to Wikipedia, these are the countries that don't celebrate or recognise Christmas at all;

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Bhutan
  • North Korea
  • Libya
  • Mauritania 
  • Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • Tajikistan
  • Tunisia
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Yemen

North Korea have a whole calendar full of other public holidays. Most of which the rest of the world doesn't celebrate. 

Take a further look at North Korea's public holidays here



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Zoe Stephens

Zoe is the marketing manager and a tour leader at Koryo Tours.

Her love of meeting new people and exploring new cultures has led her to study several languages including German, Japanese, and Chinese. Having lived in several different countries across 4 continents, she often writes about languages and culture in her blogs and is very active on social media. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was 'stuck' in Tonga for 1.5 years after a weekend away. Ask her for some stories! 

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