If Santa Claus stops in North Korea this year, he'll find some trees and lights and might even hear a Christmas song or two. But he won't encounter even a hint of what Christmas actually means—not under a regime that sees foreign religion as a very real threat. Take Christmas trees, for example. They aren't especially hard to find in Pyongyang, especially in upscale restaurants or shops that cater to the local elite and the small community of resident foreigners. A waist-high tree was long a feature at the offices of the Koryolink mobile phone provider. The trees are often decorated with colorful lights and shiny baubles, but none of the displays have explicitly religious associations. Many are up all year, further diluting their Christmas connotation, the AP reports.
Instrumental versions of "White Christmas" and "Let It Snow" have been in the rotation of mood music at one of Pyongyang's ritziest hotels since at least last August. In the countryside, where such pockets of affluence are rare to nonexistent, so too, presumably, are any of these sorts of glitzy decorations. This wasn't always the case. Before the advent of the Kim regime, North Korea was fertile ground for missionaries and Pyongyang had more Christians than any other city in Korea. Most of that presence was erased by the early 1950s, and the North has kept a tight lid on all Christian activities since. The fact that Christmas-themed music and decorations are allowed at all signals how little association they evoke with the officially frowned-upon and subversive religion that spawned them, the AP notes. (Read more North Korea stories.)