CHRISTMAS IN NORTH KOREA
With excerpts by John Choi,* North Korean escapee
“Christmas? What is that?” That’s what the average North Korean would say if you were able to ask them about Christmas. Everyone in North Korea knows the birthdays of the three Kims—the leaders of North Korea since its beginnings—but they do not know who Jesus Christ is or that Christmas is Jesus Christ’s birthday.
Christmas has long been a non-event for North Korean people—except for underground Christians. The regime works hard to ensure information about religious holidays does not enter the country, and its citizens remain unaware people are celebrating and belting out Christmas hymns across the world.
However, while Christmas is forbidden in North Korea, it is replaced with a slew of nationalistic holidays around the Christmas period. On December 24, North Korean people celebrate the birthday of Kim Jongsuk, Kim Il-sung’s first wife and the deceased mother and grandmother of Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-suk is regarded as a revolutionary hero because—according to legend—she made many pilgrimages to her birthplace, Hoeryong, a city in the northeast. In fact, people from the factories, communities, schools and universities have to sing for the revolutionary idol’s birthday. In other words, this is a North Korean Christmas carol. Three days later, on December 27, people are given a day off work for the National Constitution Day. New Year’s Day is more about revolutionary zeal when thousands of North Koreans walk in a yearly procession to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang to the preserved body of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
Hannah and her family were arrested for leaving North Korea. When it was discovered that they were Christians, they were all put in solitary confinement. She says, “Prisoners in solitary confinement were badly beaten up. Nobody dared to resist because you’d only make the torture worse. But my husband was different. The more they tortured him, the harder he defended his faith. He yelled at them: ‘If believing in God is a sin, I’d rather die! Just kill me! It’s my mission to live according to God’s will!’ “Of course, we prayed throughout our time in prison.
One day, our entire family was called out of the prison cell. We were in front of the deputy of the prison, waiting to hear our verdict, and in our minds we all desperately prayed for a miracle. We didn’t want to suffer and die in a political prisoner camp. God answered our prayer. The deputy gave us a special amnesty.
When we walked out of the prison that night and were finally free and alone, we quietly sang a hymn.” Open Doors’ work in North Korea gives hope, strength and courage to many Hannahs. Our underground networks reach 60,000 secret believers with food, medicine and clothes to help them to survive and to be salt and light in North Korea.
Our Gifts of Hope are delivering hope to believers living in countries opposed to the Gospel. Join us in sending them hope and assurance that they are not alone!