12 Traditional Korean Christmas Foods

by Ella

Christmas in South Korea is a festive time marked by a blend of traditional Korean customs and Western influences. Although Christmas is not a traditional Korean holiday, it has been embraced with enthusiasm, particularly by younger generations and Christians, who make up a significant portion of the population. The holiday season in South Korea features unique culinary traditions that reflect the country’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary tastes. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the foods that Koreans typically eat for Christmas, highlighting both traditional Korean dishes and Western-inspired treats.

The Evolution of Christmas in South Korea

Historical Context

Christmas in South Korea began to gain prominence after the Korean War, largely due to the influence of American culture and the growing Christian population. Over the decades, the holiday has evolved into a festive occasion celebrated by many, regardless of religious affiliation. Christmas in South Korea is a time for family gatherings, gift-giving, and, of course, enjoying delicious food.


Modern Celebrations

Today, Christmas in South Korea is a vibrant celebration that includes a mix of religious observances, commercial festivities, and social gatherings. Christmas lights, decorations, and markets are common in major cities, and the holiday spirit is palpable. Food plays a central role in these celebrations, with families and friends coming together to share special meals.


Traditional Korean Christmas Foods

While there is no singular “traditional” Christmas menu in Korea, several Korean dishes are commonly enjoyed during the holiday season. These dishes often feature a blend of flavors and ingredients that reflect Korea’s culinary heritage.


1. Korean Barbecue (고기구이, Gogi-Gui)

Korean barbecue, or gogi-gui, is a popular choice for Christmas gatherings. It involves grilling various meats, such as beef, pork, and chicken, at the table and is enjoyed with a variety of side dishes (banchan) and dipping sauces.


Common Ingredients:

  • Beef: Ribeye, brisket, and marinated short ribs (galbi).
  • Pork: Belly (samgyeopsal) and marinated pork (dwaeji bulgogi).
  • Chicken: Marinated chicken pieces.


  • Banchan: Small side dishes including kimchi, pickled vegetables, and seasoned greens.
  • Dipping Sauces: Sesame oil with salt and pepper, ssamjang (spicy paste), and soy sauce-based dips.

2. Kimchi (김치)

Kimchi, Korea’s famous fermented vegetable dish, is a staple on the Christmas table. It is made from napa cabbage or radishes and is seasoned with chili pepper, garlic, ginger, and salted seafood.


  • Baechu Kimchi: The most common type, made with napa cabbage.
  • Kkakdugi: Cubed radish kimchi.
  • Oi Sobagi: Stuffed cucumber kimchi.

3. Japchae (잡채)

Japchae is a popular dish made from stir-fried glass noodles (dangmyeon) with a mix of vegetables, and sometimes beef. It is seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar.


  • Glass Noodles: Made from sweet potato starch.
  • Vegetables: Carrots, spinach, onions, and mushrooms.
  • Protein: Thinly sliced beef or tofu.

4. Tteokguk (떡국)

Tteokguk, a traditional rice cake soup, is often enjoyed during festive occasions, including Christmas. The soup is made with thinly sliced rice cakes (tteok) in a clear beef broth, garnished with green onions, eggs, and sometimes beef slices.


  • Rice Cakes: Garaetteok, sliced into thin rounds.
  • Broth: Beef stock or anchovy broth.
  • Garnishes: Julienned egg, seaweed, and green onions.

5. Galbijjim (갈비찜)

Galbijjim is a braised short rib dish that is both savory and sweet. It is often reserved for special occasions and is a favorite during Christmas celebrations.


  • Short Ribs: Beef short ribs, braised until tender.
  • Sauce: Soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and ginger.
  • Vegetables: Carrots, potatoes, and chestnuts.

6. Pajeon (파전)

Pajeon, a savory Korean pancake made with green onions, is a popular appetizer or side dish during Christmas feasts. It is often paired with seafood, such as shrimp or squid, and served with a soy-based dipping sauce.


  • Batter: Flour, water, and egg.
  • Green Onions: The primary ingredient, giving the pancake its name.
  • Seafood: Optional, but commonly added.

Western-Influenced Christmas Foods in Korea

In addition to traditional Korean dishes, Western-inspired foods have become a significant part of Christmas celebrations in South Korea. These dishes reflect the global nature of modern Korean cuisine and the influence of Western holiday traditions.

1. Christmas Cake (크리스마스 케이크)

Christmas cakes are a major highlight of the holiday season in South Korea. Unlike the rich fruitcakes common in the West, Korean Christmas cakes are often light and airy sponge cakes, beautifully decorated and filled with cream or fresh fruits.

Popular Varieties:

  • Strawberry Shortcake: A favorite, featuring layers of sponge cake, whipped cream, and fresh strawberries.
  • Chocolate Cake: Rich and indulgent, often decorated with festive motifs.
  • Green Tea Cake: Incorporating matcha for a uniquely Korean twist.

2. Roasted Meats

Roasted meats, particularly turkey and chicken, have become popular for Christmas dinners. These dishes are often prepared with a Korean twist, incorporating local flavors and ingredients.


  • Roast Turkey: Occasionally seasoned with Korean spices and served with traditional side dishes.
  • Roast Chicken: More common than turkey, often glazed with a sweet and savory sauce.

3. Pasta and Pizza

Western dishes like pasta and pizza are frequently enjoyed during Christmas celebrations, especially among younger generations. These dishes are often adapted to suit Korean tastes.

Popular Choices:

  • Cream Pasta: Rich and creamy, sometimes incorporating Korean ingredients like gochujang (red chili paste).
  • Korean-Style Pizza: Topped with ingredients like bulgogi (marinated beef) or sweet potatoes.

4. Salads

Fresh salads are a common addition to Christmas meals in South Korea, providing a light and refreshing contrast to the richer dishes.


  • Caesar Salad: A classic choice, often with a Korean twist such as adding kimchi.
  • Fruit Salad: Featuring seasonal fruits, sometimes with a yogurt dressing.

Dessert and Snacks

Korean Christmas celebrations are not complete without an array of desserts and snacks, combining traditional flavors with festive cheer.

1. Hotteok (호떡)

Hotteok is a popular street food, especially during the winter. These sweet pancakes are filled with brown sugar, honey, nuts, and cinnamon, making them a perfect holiday treat.


  • Dough: Made from wheat flour, sugar, milk, and yeast.
  • Filling: Brown sugar, honey, chopped nuts, and cinnamon.

2. Tteok (떡)

Tteok, or Korean rice cakes, come in various forms and are often enjoyed during festive occasions. They are chewy, sweet, and can be filled or topped with various ingredients.


  • Injeolmi: Coated with powdered soybeans.
  • Songpyeon: Half-moon shaped and often filled with sweetened sesame seeds or red bean paste.

3. Christmas Cookies

Christmas cookies are becoming increasingly popular in South Korea, with many families baking or buying them to celebrate the season.

Common Varieties:

  • Gingerbread Cookies: Decorated with icing and festive designs.
  • Butter Cookies: Often shaped like stars or Christmas trees.


A variety of beverages complement the festive foods, ranging from traditional Korean drinks to Western favorites.

1. Makgeolli (막걸리)

Makgeolli is a traditional Korean rice wine that is often enjoyed during celebrations. Its slightly sweet, tangy flavor and creamy texture make it a unique choice for holiday toasts.

2. Soju (소주)

Soju, Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage, is often consumed during festive occasions, including Christmas. It can be enjoyed straight or in cocktails.

3. Non-Alcoholic Options

For those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, there are plenty of options that align with the festive spirit.

Sikhye (식혜): A traditional sweet rice punch made from fermented rice and malt.

Yuja Tea (유자차): A hot citrus tea made from yuja (yuzu) fruit, honey, and hot water.

Hot Chocolate: A Western favorite that has become popular in South Korea, especially during the winter.

Dining Out: Christmas in Korean Restaurants

Many Koreans celebrate Christmas by dining out, enjoying special holiday menus offered by restaurants. These menus often feature a mix of traditional Korean dishes and Western favorites, catering to diverse tastes.

Hotel Buffets

Luxury hotels in major cities like Seoul often offer elaborate Christmas buffets. These buffets typically include a wide range of dishes, from Korean classics to international cuisine, along with decadent desserts and festive decorations.

Themed Restaurants

Themed restaurants and cafes embrace the Christmas spirit with special decorations, seasonal menus, and holiday-themed events. These establishments provide a festive atmosphere perfect for family gatherings and celebrations with friends.

Home-Cooked Christmas Meals

While dining out is popular, many Koreans prefer to celebrate Christmas with home-cooked meals. Families often gather to prepare and enjoy a feast together, creating cherished memories.

Family Recipes

Each family may have its own special recipes that are passed down through generations. These recipes often blend traditional Korean flavors with modern twists, reflecting the evolving nature of Korean cuisine.

Cooking Together

Cooking together is an important part of the holiday celebration, fostering a sense of togetherness and shared joy. From preparing the ingredients to cooking and decorating the dishes, every step is a collective effort.

See Also: Australia’s Top 20 Most Popular Christmas Dishes


Christmas in South Korea is a festive occasion that beautifully blends traditional Korean culinary practices with Western influences. Whether celebrating with a Korean barbecue feast, indulging in a beautifully decorated Christmas cake, or enjoying a mix of both, the holiday season is a time for delicious food and cherished moments with loved ones. As the popularity of Christmas continues to grow, the culinary traditions surrounding the holiday will likely continue to evolve, reflecting the dynamic nature of Korean culture.



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