At this hotel, it's beginning to look a lot like ChristmasThe holiday season, Christmas in particular, is supposed to be a time of fun and happiness, but it may be one of the hardest times of year for expatriates. If you miss that huge Christmas tree in front of Rockefeller Center in New York, but cannot find another way to soothe your homesickness, there is a substitute. Instead of decking the hall with boughs of holly, the Seoul Hilton has set up the biggest Christmas tree in Korea along with 12 sets of toy trains as part of a charity fund-drive.
"We are happy to have been hosting this event for the last five years, and hope this year's will be as joyful as the previous ones," said Gwak Young-deok, a public relations assistant manager at the hotel.
On Nov. 25, the Christmas tree had a lighting ceremony, attended by a group of photographers and more than a dozen children from a home for the needy. Santa Claus and five "Santarinas" showed up, bearing baskets of candies and gifts. The Christmas tree is 12 meters tall and brightly decorated. Sadly, the tree is artificial, not alive. "The first year, we imported a real tree, but the stringent customs process made it difficult," Mr. Gwak said.
One of the hotel staff, named Sven, dressed as a train station employee and started a signal to set the toy trains into motion. The 110 train cars, along with several toy hot air balloons and other decorations, were sponsored by more than 20 companies. Money raised from this event will go to several homes for the needy, such as Eden House for the elderly, Hyesimwon for children and Hansarang Village for severely disabled children.
Cha Ji-hwan, a 5-year-old from Hyesimwon, was at the front, watching the trains. When ordered to smile for the photographers, he started to cry. Then he saw a toy Santa Claus playing the drum on one of the trains. Smiling, he shouted, "That's so cool!" And he was in a flood of flashlights.
The Christmas tree and toy trains are on display through Feb. 9. Everyone is free to take a photo with Santa and the Santarinas. For more information, call 02-317-3013~4 (English available).
by Chun Su-jin