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Christmas market brings holiday spirit to Seoul : Yeouido’s Han River Park transforms into a festive shopping center filled with Yuletide glee

Dec 21,2017
In a joint collaboration with Strasbourg Tourist Office, Seoul City has organized 2017 Seoul Strasbourg Christmas Market, held in the Yeouido Han River Park in western Seoul. [JIN MIN-JI]
At left, people walk through the entrance of the Strasbourg zone at the ongoing 2017 Seoul Strasbourg Christmas Market. At the handicraft shopping zone, middle, visitors can savor their food and look around at handmade products. A French vendor, right, sells handicrafts in one of the market’s booths. [JIN MIN-JI]
Christmas season has arrived, and Seoul’s streets are lit with dazzling lights and the sounds of holiday cheer. One spot in the city likely to bring out the spirit of the season is the Christmas market now being held in western Seoul.

The idea of a Christmas market most likely conjures up images of the classic European Christmas markets in Nuremberg, Munich, Vienna and Strasbourg. Though it may not be as large-scale or as traditional, Seoul has launched a special market in Yeouido’s Han River Park in conjunction with Strasbourg’s tourist office to reproduce the French city’s iconic Christmas market in Seoul.

Strasbourg, which straddles the border of France and Germany, is home to one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets, with the first edition taking place in 1570. Today, there are 10 locations with 300 or so chalets, or wooden cottages, dotted around the historic city’s narrow alleyways and beautiful squares.

In its third year, the market held in Seoul showcases about 200 stalls and 60 food trucks. Visitors are able to experience the fun of walking around and taking a look at the Christmas specialties, handmade products and delectable treats while carols ring out.

The market is divided into three parts: the Strasbourg, food truck and handicraft shopping zones.

The most visually exquisite section of the three is the Strasbourg section, where French food, handicrafts and Christmas souvenirs are sold under twinkling lights. Some of the treats available at the festive booths are hearty Alsatian-style choucroute garnie (sauerkraut seasoned and simmered with various meats, potatoes and fermented cabbage), seasonal breads like stollen baked and sold by a French baker, and vin chaud (wine brewed with spices) that will keep your hands warm while you walk through the cold air of the market.

Also on sale are Christmas-themed cookies, which look almost too good to eat, and can even be hung on a Christmas tree. Delicately decorated in bright colors, the iced sugar cookies are shaped like hearts and stars.

If you are looking for small gifts this holiday season, the handicrafts on sale at the market are unique treasures that will brighten anyone’s day. Sent to Korea from France, these delicate objects made by French artists include small, wooden Christmas trees and cute little dolls in red dresses riding on a sleigh. While some of the items are sold by the artists themselves, others are sold by vendors wearing Santa Claus hats.

Next to the Strasbourg zone is the food truck section, which allows visitors looking to fill their empty stomachs. A line of trucks selling food like buttered shrimp ala brochette, cube steak and seasoned gopchang (broiled cow intestine) welcome visitors looking for diverse foods at a more affordable price than what’s offered in the Strasbourg section.

After buying food, visitors can bring their snacks along with them to the handicraft shopping zone located inside a giant tent, where long tables are lined up for people to dine away from the cold.

Inside, people can have a look at ornaments, snowman-shaped air fresheners and Christmas tree candles, although the majority of the booths sell products that are not distinctly Christmas-themed, such as jewelry, smartphone cases and dried plants. Every day at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., visitors can enjoy a carol performance inside the tent.

One activity that will be especially popular for children is a Santa mailbox. Those who want to write a letter to Santa Claus are given a free postcard, where they can write what they hope to get for Christmas.

Despite the jovial nature of the event, the Christmas market in Seoul is receiving mixed reviews.

“‘A Christmas market in Seoul?’ This was my first reaction after hearing about the event. It’s definitely a lot smaller and less celebratory for Christmas than the markets held in Europe, but it’s still an enjoyable experience,” said a 26-year-old Italian visitor.

A 25-year-old who came with her boyfriend said, “There are only around 10 booths [in the Strasbourg zone] where you can actually enjoy the Christmas mood, which you can walk through in like 10 minutes.”

She added, “Other than that, the food trucks felt just like another version of a Seoul night market and the shopping zone made me feel like I was at a start-up expo.”

The 2017 Seoul Strasbourg Christmas Market will run throughout Dec. 31. The market, held in the Yeouido Han River Park, will run from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]