Christmas: A Financial Nightmare for Korean Parents

In South Korea, Santa came to kindergartens to deliver presents. But as children took their wrapped gifts from costumed Santas’ hands, they soon realize that the gifts were really coming from their parents. Schools and parents have begun to complain about the phenomenon of children becoming hurt and ashamed when they open their gifts and they aren’t as nice as their classmates’.

Online, Korean mothers and fathers complained about the pressure to buy the must-have gift this season, a Tobot transformer toy. Netizens mocked some families for overspending so they don’t become embarrassed, but others justified their gift-buying by saying they don’t want their children to grow up feeling inferior.

From Naver:

Even Kindergarteners’ Christmas Presents Show Gap Between Rich and Poor

Despite tight finances, Ms. Jung (36), who lives in Seoul’s Songpa District with her seven-year-old kindergarten son, bought a ₩350,000 (USD $330) transformer robot and sent it to her son’s kindergarten as his Christmas present on the 23rd. Ms. Jung said, ‘Last year, the kindergarten told us to prepare a small present, so I sent them a small figurine. My son cried his heart out because he was the only one with a shabby present.’ She added, ‘The gap between rich and poor is quite large in the Songpa district, so this year I did not want my son to get hurt even if I had to overwork myself.’


Recently many kindergartens and day care centers have been holding Christmas events where the parents prepare gifts for their children. The size and contents of the presents for these Christmas events are considerably different depending on the parents’ financial resources. This has caused a lot of controversy because parents are increasingly concerned about hurting their children’s feelings.

The director of one kindergarten located in Seoul’s Yangcheon district said, ‘Every Christmas we hire a Santa to hand out the presents to the children to make it seem like Santa himself gave them the gifts, but these days the children catch on quickly and realized that their parents had prepared the gifts beforehand. The children compare their gifts with each other, so we asked the parents to prepare gifts that are 30 cm or less in height and width. Some of the gifts don’t abide by these rules, but we cannot return them, so we’re in a tough situation.’

These expensive and popular toys can cost parents several hundred thousand won apiece. Certain brand-name model cars even have asking prices of several million won. Some parents spend money they don’t have to purchase these expensive gifts so that their children do not get hurt.

Another Ms. Jung (34) from Ulsan, who has a six-year-old son in kindergarten, said ‘The mothers in the neighborhood are so competitive about preparing these gifts, so I bought a ₩260,000 (USD $245) Nintendo game that cost more than our family can support. Christmas does not feel like a blessing, but more like a nightmare.’

However, the Ministry of Education as well as city and provincial education bureaus say that they cannot be involved in every kindergarten event.

The coveted Transformer Tobot

The coveted Transformer Tobot

Comments from Naver:


They keep whining about having no money and then move to Seoul because of pride.

vhy9**** (responding to above):

Pride? Many people can’t leave because of their children’s education or work.

trip**** (responding to above):

Children’s education, you say? If you live outside of Seoul, your education is so terrible you can’t go to Seoul University? To put it bluntly, has there been anyone, even an upright politician, who has been educated in Seoul? If you can raise a child to become a successful person who does not quarrel but is instead useful, I will acknowledge your comment.

redt**** (responding to above):

Is there any evidence that education in Seoul is good? Is it a good idea to change jobs from the countryside to Seoul? There are many educational systems in the countryside that are good. The reason why so many jobs concentrate in Seoul is because everyone flocked to Seoul. Before that, the unbalanced growth designed by the government was a trap.


350,000 won? A Transformer Tobot is only 35,000 won. Ke

wlsd**** (responding to above):

There has been a shortfall in Tobot production, so there are not enough around. People have kept an eye on this, hoarded them, and are now selling them on the internet for 200,000 to 300,000 won. I don’t know what this guy’s talking about?

smj0**** (responding to above):

You’re right. There weren’t any at the mart and when I searched online, the prices were extremely jacked up.

club**** (responding to above):

Ah~~ Tobots… My four-year-old kid has Tobot X and R. Earlier this month, my husband bought Tobot R for him as a birthday present.. Tobot is a really new product.. Good thing I avoid the toys section when I go shopping. Geez.. I’m not the kind of parent who buys whatever her kid wants, but I don’t want to tempt him, so I stay far away from there.

Price differences between buying the toy at E-mart (top left) and online

Price differences between buying the toy at E-mart (top left) and online


Buying expensive gifts for children isn’t good. Children soon forget about Christmas gifts, but mothers are very sensitive. Raise them the way you believe is best.

char**** (responding to above):

By seeing the gap between rich and poor through the presents with their own eyes, young children feel envious and inferior. Do you think it’s easy for them to forget that? They might not remember it once, but if it happens several times, it might affect their feelings and personalities.

outw**** (responding to above):

At that age, even if they only feel love at home, they have high self-esteem, right? You must be talking about the mothers’ sense of inferiority. If this repeats later on even after growing up, the child might feel a sense of inferiority, but if the parents are firm, even if the child’s self-esteem is hurt, it won’t be so bad to the point where he can’t go out in public.

outw**** (responding to above):

Also, I think that people should understand their family’s means to a certain extent and raise their children within those means starting at a young age so that they don’t get discouraged and don’t think that everything is done for them.


A salary of 5 million won a month is not enough to make a kid happy?

vs1y**** (responding to above):

Even department heads of large corporations are struggling. Their kids attend 2-3 private academies, and then during vacation, they also attend language courses. In the end, all of the money they earn is spent on tuition.

minj**** (responding to above):

You just gotta earn more. If you earn 5 million, spend about 5 million. If you earn 10 million, spend about 10 million. Your lifestyle must adjust accordingly.

poal**** (responding to above):

So many people are out of their minds…


I want to live a sweet and happy life with pets and no kids.

tkdg**** (responding to above):

Honey, I’m two weeks pregnant

kkk0**** (responding to above):

Oh wow, I’m also female, so how did I get pregnant?

amad**** (responding to above):

Take care of yourself. Have a nice life^^

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  • bigmamat

    Is this really news? What should we be learning from this, that Christmas sucks even on the other side of the world? Of course Koreans would emulate Americans when it comes to Christmas and turn it into a vehicle for one-up-man-ship and obscene consumption. What Ms. Jung should have done when her whiney little shit came home from school crying about his toy is taken it away from him, smacked his ass and reminded him that isn’t the only toy he could lose today. Jeez…

  • We have secret santa at my childs school each child has to pull the name of another classmate from a hat and then buy a gift for that child with a limit of 10 euro per child.It works very well my children love shopping for their classmates.Also it teaches them just how far 10 euro can go.

    • commander

      So great that we need to bring that practice into South Korea.

      • David

        We do the same at my Korean school in China (if all the students in the class want it). We put a limit of 20 Yuan (about 3,500 won) and the kids have fun wrapping and guessing who their present is from.

    • Rinetto Shii

      We have the same thing in Australia, around $5 – $10 a gift. Korea really needs to incorporate something like that with a money limit not a size limit

  • Bryan Cheron

    I don’t understand this:
    “Some of the gifts don’t abide by these rules, but we cannot return them, so we’re in a tough situation.”
    Why can’t the people who run the school just make it clear that there is a strict limit on presents? Make parents submit a receipt to the school or something.

    • Azureh

      Or better yet scrap the whole thing entirely, it’s an invitation for showing off and does no good for the child either way. Or do a secret Santa, at least then that’ll teach the kids selflessness.

      • Olivier69

        Obviously someone is not thinking as far as their big toe! It’s really a no brainier if find some kids are from better financial homes than others. It’s clear that ‘showing off’ is something that is imbedded in the minds of most people there.

        They also do that sort of thing in my country but people get called out for it. I think the reason why the teacher/school doesn’t stand up to the parents etc is because it’s a culture thing. Their paying their salaries and they should be grateful??

    • Boris_Da_Bengal_Tiger

      It is simple. Either they abide by the rules or they can give that particular present at home instead of in the class.

      To be honest, it is pretty much parents trying to outdo each other and use their kids to show off.

  • commander

    It is not that parents buy presents for children but that they pay a high price for vanity that could spoil children.

  • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

    In Europe, Christmas is a holiday that managed to get two bitter enemies for one day to stop fighting each other in World War I and literally just get along.

    In Asia, the ‘peace on earth and goodwill towards men’ seems to have been lost in translation.

  • UserID01

    My roomie grew up in a household where Christmas was all about getting expensive gifts, other bills be damned. Even now, she told me that her mother skipped paying rent on time to buy gifts for her new grandson (what the fuck does an INFANT know how great of a gift he gets?) and her six year old niece. Now those are screwed up priorities. She willingly induces bad credit and accumulated debt every year for non-essential gifts. I will never understand that. I’ve been having a tough year so I told my sisters that all they’re getting this year is a hug, a kiss and a job application. I ended up getting each one a gift under $25 each (for a grand total of $75 spent) and that’s just fine. You don’t have to go over the top. It’s a gift, not an obligation to spend as much as you possibly can to show off.

  • what Korean children need is a copy of the Analects

    • bang2tang


  • A Pinky Promise

    Dear Koreabang
    There are many interesting news about Korea, please translate those ones, too

    • commander

      Can you be more specific about intriguing items?

    • David

      I think this is a nice change of pace, where nobody is killing anybody. It is also holiday appropriate. I often use these stories in my class and this is the kind which can start an interesting discussion. Nice job Eugene Yu (and all the translators, including you Commander).

  • bumfromkorea

    Like peewee sports in America, the presents have absolutely nothing to do with the children.

  • asian don draper

    i have many wants, but it doesnt mean i will get them all if i cant afford them.. i guess i will teach my kids how life really is at a young age.

  • PixelPulse

    That seems like a whole lot of their problems for thinking they need to drop a shit ton of money on Christmas. Especially if youre doing this because some moms are competitive.

  • pixelate

    instead of using height limitations why not set a price limitation. Surely these kids will also get presents on Christmas day so tell parents to spend say no more then $40-50 on the childs kindergarten present or not do it at all, I was always very happy to get presents as a kid and the time before returning to school was always best because we’d play with th toys and then at school play with each others toys. Spoiling children never works, it just gives you brats.

  • MyMotto

    They should just set a price limit. If you want to get your kid a ridiculously expensive toy save that for home.
    Unfortunately no matter what toys are going to be compared so they should just teach their kids to be grateful. It can make your experience so much better. Christmas doesn’t have to be such a bitter holiday…

  • Azureh

    Sounds like the whole Santa thing is more about the parents competing with each other, to the eventual detriment of the child. I’d rather see a child who knows their self worth isn’t dependent on material goods rather then a child whose solely dependent on what they have over what others have. That pretty much sets them up for self esteem issues and compromises who they are as individuals.

    Happens in the US all the time, especially with the media promoting “must have” toys, of course doing so conspicuously right before the holidays come around.

  • ytuque

    Koreans take the joy out of everything.

  • cqn0

    Uhh, why are the schools having the parents buy presents and then handing them out to the kids in front of the whole class? That’s the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a long while.

    • Boris_Da_Bengal_Tiger

      It is Korea…

  • YourSupremeCommander

    How’s a 7 year old kid still in kindergarten? That’s what I really want to know.

    • Yaminah Jamison

      Maybe going by Korean age and/or over there maybe they start school later?

    • chucky3176

      Depending on what month you are born, you can have as much as 2 more years tacked onto your Western age. Going by Korean age, you are already one year old when you are born, and then you also get one more age tacked on, on New Years day.

    • ksharp7

      The day you are born you are 1 year old. Then at New Years, not January 1st, whenever New Year falls everyone ages a year. So a child born January 7th is 1 years old the day they are born. Then at New Year, January 31st that same child turns 2. So a child less than a month old would be two years old under the Korean age system. When a child is 6-7 in western years, turning 1 twelve months after you are born, and then aging every 12 months later, a child will enter first grade. But could be 8 in Korean years.

  • Jen

    South Korean kids I’ve seen are mostly spoiled. Particularly in public spaces, I find them lying on the ground, crying, screaming, pestering their parents, almost whenever I see S. Korean kids there. S. Korean parents are even more problematic. They do not seem to be aware it can bother others there. They say, “don’t crush child’s spirit.” Who crushes child’s spirit? Why do they bring their kids to starbucks or public library? Of course, no such rules children are banned for starbucks. But, I’ve never seen noisy kids like S. Korean at starbucks in the United States. Ah, I just recall some. But, they were also South Korean kids staying in the United States.

    • Sillian

      You know what’s funny? If you talk to people specifically about it, it seems everyone condemns such parenting. On the internet, you always see netizens critical of such parenting. Yet such parents don’t cease to be so visible.

  • ksharp7

    In the US Santa may visit classrooms but he doesn’t deliver any present from anyone to the school. All presents are delivered while the child sleeps on Xmas eve. Maybe he gives the kids candy canes. Parents give gifts on the eve or the day. Not to do gifts at the school party makes the most sense. How can the school not give the extravagant gift they sent violating the rules? Should the child get nothing? How would they know what was sent if it’s wrapped? Is there school on Xmas? I don’t blame a 5/7 year old for feeling sad Santa gave him a matchbox car when Santa gave his classmate a $60 robot potentially bought for hundreds. If your boss gave you a jar of jelly and a coworker of similar years and duties an iPad for Christmas, would you not feel a bit miffed?

  • candy

    …I was born and grew up in America, yet my favorite things to play with were giant cardboard boxes, building forts out of sheets and building blocks ._.

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