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Seoul’s Christmas trees are both creative and classic: The city’s hotels and stores look to impress visitors this season

Dec 17,2018
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Outside of Shinsegae Department Store’s main branch, a 20-meter (65.6-foot) Christmas tree lights up the chilly winter night. [PARK SANG-MOON]
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Left: A pair of women take a photo in front of Christmas-themed scenery at the Galleria Department Store branch in Apgujeong-dong, southern Seoul. Right: Hyundai Department Store’s Trade Center branch in southern Seoul displays a 13-meter (43-foot) traditional Christmas tree. [HANWHA GALLERIA, HYUNDAI DEPARTMENT STORE]
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Westin Chosun Hotel is celebrating Christmas using peacocks to symbolize innocence. [WESTIN CHOSUN HOTEL]
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Left: Paradise City is offering visitors a simple yet glamorous crystal Christmas tree titled "Baccarat Crystal Tree." Right: The tree at the InterContinental Seoul Coex in southern Seoul was inspired by the aurora lights of Northern Europe. [PARADISE CITY, INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL]
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Millennium Seoul Hilton takes an engaging approach to Christmas with a model train set. [MILLENNIUM SEOUL HILTON]
With Christmas just around the corner, Seoul's streets are lively as ever. Carols echo on the streets while beautifully garnished Christmas cakes garner glances from passersby.

Though the trend in Korea for this year’s Christmas is to enjoy “small but certain happiness," passing by the giant Christmas trees in front of posh department stores and hotels without taking a picture seems almost impossible.

Last week, when the days started to get darker and lights from a Christmas tree of Shinsegae Department Store in central Seoul began to light up the chilly nights, swarms of people gathered around the tree to capture photos of it.

Braving cold weather, countless couples captured romantic moments, while those who came alone focused on getting an Instagram-worthy shot.

“This is a Christmas tree from Shinsegae Department store in Seoul,” a Chinese tourist vlogger filming himself with his smartphone told his viewers. “Look at it. It’s so beautiful. This place is near the tourist area Myeong-dong [in central Seoul], so those who are planning a visit to Seoul during this Christmas season can easily drop by.”

To introduce more creative, colorful and eye-catching Christmas trees each year, leading department stores and hotels are putting in lots of effort and ingenuity.

“Presenting a beautiful Christmas tree is important because it not only offers a sight to see, but could also attract more people into the store,” said a representative from Shinsegae Department Store. “Its most crucial function is branding our store and becoming a landmark that represents the area.”

Below are some of the unique and fancy Christmas trees that are worth a visit this Christmas.



Shinsegae Department Store

In Jung District in central Seoul, this glowing 20-meter (65.6-foot) Christmas tree warms up the icy night sky.

Placed right above the entrance to the posh department store, the LED tree displays an almost four-minute video that features flashy lights, warm colors and decorations.

The video unfolds like a story from a fairy tale, involving depictions of a pair of figure skaters showcasing beautiful moves and a cute polar bear waving hello. A scene portraying a set of unfolding presents adds exciting moment for viewers.

Currently, videos and photos of this grand tree are being actively shared on Instagram, many of which were posted by foreign travelers.

One traveler from New York wrote on his Instagram, “Nobody does holiday decorations like Asian Cities,” underneath a photo of a Shinsegae Christmas tree.

Starting on Dec. 26, the department store will project a different video on its tree to celebrate the New Year. The tree will stay up until late January.



Hyundai Department Store

Another popular spot for Christmas tree lovers is Hyundai Department Store’s Trade Center branch in southern Seoul.

The tree looks just like a well-decorated average Christmas tree - except that it stands 13 meters high.

It may look plain in daylight, but the tree offers grand scenery, with purple and white lights that brighten up the tree and a backdrop of a dark sky. Items like jingle bells and decorative balls are tightly hung on the tree. Small, snow-covered trees and a set of houses surround the tree's bottom, creating a scene of a small town getting ready for the holiday.

“Christmas is one of the most important seasons to celebrate for a department store,” said a representative from Hyundai Department Store. “Our design team starts preparing for the tree around three months before it gets installed - which is longer than the preparation period for other seasonal celebrations,” he added, while refusing to specify the amount spent on the tree.

“These days, a lot of people put up photos of what they do and see on social media. We hope to provide a good photo spot, which could naturally promote the department store and also take an emotional approach to our customers through the tree.”



Hanwha Galleria

Hanwha Galleria’s Apgujeong branch in southern Seoul found a way to differentiate itself from other department stores this Christmas season by collaborating with upscale brand Chanel. Though the seasonal Christmas trees here are a lot smaller than the ones offered by its competitors, they provide a unique scene.

Surrounding the Galleria Luxury Hall East is a set of trees that resemble a small forest. But instead of putting the spotlight on the traditional Christmas items, the highlight of the scene is a large model of Chanel's signature perfume, Chanel No. 5. Colored in scarlet, the perfume bottle stands out from the surrounding trees lit in white color.

This is not the first time Hanwha Galleria collaborated with a luxury brand to create an upscale Christmas ambience. Last year, it worked with Cartier, and with Bulgari in 2016.



Westin Chosun Hotel

Apart from department stores, other spots to catch Christmas spectacles are hotels.

Just like any other year, hotels have placed dazzling Christmas decorations in their lobbies.

This year, the Westin Chosun Hotel in central Seoul presented a pair of peacocks that stand in front of and behind a circular nontraditional Christmas tree. Peacocks represent innocent souls and symbolize the direction of a safe path led by angels, according to the hotel representative.

The antique chandelier that connects the installment to the ceiling adds glamor to the display, which was designed by a flower boutique Kyukmul Gongboo, which is located inside the hotel itself.

In the lower lobby is an empty cage. According to the hotel, it tells a story about how the peacocks, which were staying inside the cage, flew outside in time for Christmas to spread love, happiness and blessings.



InterContinental Hotel

InterContinental Seoul Coex in southern Seoul also is displaying an unconventional tree this year.

The hotel created “Modern City Christmas," an installation shaped like a tree, using various decorative balls.

Mostly using the colors of white and violet in varying shades, it is decorated with twinkling lights that drape across the tree. The design aims to reflect the beautiful aurora seen in Northern Europe.

Above it is a shining and transparent chandelier that swirls down to cover the top of the tree, adding glamor to the look.



Paradise City

Right at the center of a plaza in the Paradise City resort in Incheon is a Christmas-themed crystal tree.

Named after the exquisite crystal brand, it is titled Baccarat Crystal Tree.

Standing 9.5 meters in height, it looks very simple and does not feature many decorations compared to trees from other hotels or department stores. Despite this, it manages to leave a strong and lasting impact through its simplicity, creating a luxurious look.

Aiming to promote the ambience of a European market, the hotel is also hosting a winter market around the tree. Various Christmas ornaments like snowballs and musical boxes, as well as eateries such as cookies and turkey sandwiches, are being sold at stalls that are surrounding Baccarat Crystal Tree. The market will run through Dec. 26.



Millennium Seoul Hilton

Instead of following the glamorous and luxurious model of its competitors, the Millennium Seoul Hilton in central Seoul decided to go with a cute and comical approach.

Right after guests pass through the revolving door of the hotel, a Santa Claus lies on a table packed with golden Christmas presents. While raising his eyeglasses with a hand, he seems to be inviting people to come in closer with his eyes. Take a few steps closer to the center of the lobby, and visitors will instantly spot a giant 10-meter Christmas tree.

Strengthening the Christmas spirit is a model railroad located in the lower lobby. Themed after a snow-capped Alpine mountain town, about 75 handcrafted locomotives and railroad cars chug their way through tunnels, wooden bridges and hot air balloons in the miniature village. The display will include appearances from Milton, the hotel’s chipmunk mascot, as he searches for Santa.

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