My Perfect Korean December Plan

Do you want to have a great December in South Korea? I love winter and I look forward to December every year so I would love to share how I keep the fun rolling year-round. Here is how I maximize my life during one of my favorite times of the year.

The Importance of December

Getting December right sets the tone for the three coldest months of the year in South Korea. Leaning into winter from the beginning may limit your suffering and allow you to avoid the cold weather mood crash. Embrace the fact that how you live in the winter might happen differently than other months and just fall in love with it.

Heading into winter-like…

In fact, if you don’t take winter seriously in December it can negatively impact the rest of winter in small or big ways. Having a great winter requires a certain amount of momentum and planning so that you don’t feel the negative impact of the cold, shorter days, and potentially reduced social life.

Here are a few ways your approach to December may positively or negatively impact your life:

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  • Physical Comfort: When you don’t prepare for winter the cold hits you very hard. Mentally, it’s tough to overcome the pain of being frozen. When you prepare super warm clothes you overcome this struggle from the start.
  • Emotional Comfort: If you don’t prepare your house for an increased time at home, you may start to feel depressed or frustrated with the lack of activities. However, if you prepare your home to feel like a comfortable place to exist with fun things to do, going back to the house in winter just sounds like fun.
  • Social Comfort: If you go inside your home and don’t leave your house in December it’s unlikely you will change this habit until March. Some (but not all) people find this time alone a negative experience. You want to start the winter by setting a standard of socialization.

Let’s take a look at systems and plans for making sure we don’t fall into poor habits that undermine our mental and physical health.

My Relationship with December

I’m from Alaska and I love how I get to dress for Korean the winter. Since Korea isn’t that cold for me, I get to embrace the FUN winter looks rather than just wear survival gear. I love wearing sweaters, fun hats, crazy scarves, leg warmers, and whatever else I can find. Each year I purchase more fun items to layer so that I can always look like a 1970s ski catalog or a hobo.

My idea of the perfect winter outfit. Don’t like it? Fight me. The crutches are from my summer accidents but could always come in handy again during snowboard season. lol

I don’t mess around with winter weather because the cold can be dangerous if not taken seriously. As a kid, I almost died many times in winter for various reasons but since I prepared well I am still alive today. In order to safely enjoy the cold months I plan, prepare, and execute with timely precision to continue to feel safe in winter. Being ready for cold weather and fun in a safe and secure way exists as a top priority for me.

A perfect December morning in Pyeongtaek.

As an Alaskan, I know seasonal depression can impact many people in a dangerous way. I take no chances with mental health. In our home and our family lives we don’t, “Just survive the winter” because I know how much this passive approach impacts a person’s mental stability year-round. Since Alaska has about 9 months of winter, we can’t afford to be passive and just because South Korea only has 3 months doesn’t mean I let my guard down.

Therefore, my cultural approach to winter involves enthusiasm and structure so that my family stays safe AND happy year-round. In this blog post, I’d like to share a little of what such a commitment to the winter looks like in the context of my weekend plans.

A Framework for Maximizing Winter Fun

In order to maximize my December I focus on three things:

  • 1) preparing my physical being and my physical space to feel warm in both a temperature and emotional sense so I feel personal safety.
  • 2) focusing on relationships and community building to that I have a strong support system.
  • 3) participating in popular cultural activities in Korea so that I feel a sense of place with the context of the world.

This three-part framework creates a wonderful momentum that helps me overcome the previously mentioned hurdles of Physical Comfort, Emotional Comfort, and Social Comfort. Then I take these concepts and apply them to real-world activities and traditions that support my values. You will want to modify the framework to reflect your values. For example, I value time in the mountains but you may value time in warm bright inside spaces. That said, let’s look at an example December plan.

My December Plan

Using the previously mentioned three-part Winter Fun Framework, my December weekend plan might look like the following. Keep in mind, the following December plan may change based on weather, community events, and financial situation.

Some years I might swap the Seoul weekend out for a trip to Busan, Sockcho, Daejeon, or any other beautiful Korean city. However, the other weekends tend to always be the same and I adore the consistency it brings to my life during the holiday season.

First Weekend: Prepare for Winter

We like to spend one weekend in December at home preparing for winter. With cold weather just around the corner we spend one weekend focused on:

When you prepare for winter like this in an organized and methodical way the entire season goes better. Instead of waiting to feel miserable in the cold, simply plan for what’s coming and have what you need ready to access. Such preparations can greatly improve your mental health during the beautifully cold months. Sometimes we manage to fit this into November’s plan but if not, do it in December.

New board and new bindings! Getting them ready before it’s time to hit the slopes.

This first weekend of December also doubles as a chance to build community. Invite an acquaintance or friends over for your day of preparations. Enjoy hot chocolate, movies, and complaining together about the hardships just around the corner. Then, go over to their house and help them get ready for winter as well. You might find this becomes a favorite way to hang out every year.

We also get out our Christmas tree the first weekend of December. We also tend to keep our Christmas tree up through the end of February as well to get the most joy out of it during the winter.

Second Weekend: Head to the Slopes

Time to hit the slopes for the first ski of the season!!!! We start off with something easy to get back in the grove and head to Welli Hilli. Not all the runs will be open but that doesn’t matter to us. What matter is getting in as many snowboard days as possible each ski season?

Welli Hilli Snowboarding in December

Since it’s either the first or second weekend of ski season, snow might be limited. This means that you may find a better snow experience visiting the resorts higher in the mountains in Gangwondo. Consider Yongpyong or Phoenix as well.

Keep in mind, you may need to flip the second-weekend and third-weekend plans depending on festival schedules and estimated ski opening weekend. Many of these events change based on weather conditions so plans might need to remain a little flexible.

Third Weekend: Embrace the Christmas Spirit

Just before Christmas, it’s time for a very loaded weekend in Seoul. You might even want to stay Friday night and Saturday night because you will have such a packed schedule. We try to pack in a lot of fun in just two days such as the Seoul Lantern Festival, Seoul Christmas Festival, and Christmas shopping.

Photo Credit: Seoul Korea

It’s important to note that Seoul becomes brutally cold in the winter. The concrete streets and buildings funnel the wind creating what feels like harsh wind tunnels. You need to wear heavily wind-resistant shoes, gloves, jacket, hat, etc. What might feel comfortable in the countryside on the same day might not be warm enough in Seoul.

Additionally, the Christmas Festival and the Lantern Festival occur outside. This means you need comfortable shoes for getting from one place to another. Coffee shops, restaurants, and warm places in these areas may be packed. Dress far more comfortably and warmly than you have ever done before.

Fourth Weekend: Christmas with Friends and Family

Usually, this weekend we stay closer to home since it’s around Christmas time. We will visit some of our communities’ lighted areas and enjoy a sense of community. We might throw a little Christmas eve dinner party or meet friends at a local restaurant. Making time in each month to connect with our community sits at the foundation of our life in South Korea.

Time at home with folks we adore is always the best Christmas choice.

If you don’t schedule time for friends and family while living abroad you may find that loneliness quickly catches up with you. However, if you contact all the people you’ve had a nice conversation with and get together for a holiday dinner, you may find your life filling up with the community you yearn to have.

Christmas brunch thanks to Russian Markets and Costco.

Fifth Weekend: Welcome the New Year

The western New Year’s weekend often involves going to a community New Year’s Festival and celebrating Korean style. A Korean-style New Year’s celebration involves either staying up all night or getting up early to watch the sunrise together. It’s less about the midnight countdown and more about seeing the first sunlight of the year as a group.

New Years in Homigot, South Korea

Sometimes we go to Pyeontaek Lake for the local event and sometimes we head to the east coast to watch the sunrise there. Both have one big thing in common, it’s a cold morning and you need to wear a lot of gear.

Waiting for the Homigot sunrise with a few thousand fun people.

More December Resources

Of course, this December plan reflects my values and favorite things. You might prefer to stay inside, want to see more festivals, or want to take a hike at a National Park. South of Seoul has many resources to help you find what’s right for you including a set of blog posts related to life in December.

Empowered to be Happy

Each year I feel incredible social pressure to hate winter. People sometimes become socially aggressive about the fact cold weather makes me feel happy. It’s as if no one should feel joy in winter. However, I won’t let their cultural or personal perspective on the season take my joy. Additionally, I want others to feel supported in embracing the beauty of winter. With a little planning, winter exists as something we can deeply enjoy each year.

We all make choices in our day and those choices can have the power to change our own perceptions and experiences. It’s worth attempting to challenge or change our own negative narratives surrounding winter in order to live happier healthier lives and set an example to others that winter happy exists. We can dig into our own resourcefulness and find solutions to our discomfort, inconvenience, or frustration that make us think, “Wow, I resiliant and winter can be fun!”

Hopefully this blogs empowers you to find your joyful in December. Embrace all your choices and discover the December possibilities. The next thing you know, winter will be over too soon and spring flowers will be tickling your imagination.