It’s safe to say that North and South Korea are firmly planted on each other’s “naughty” list. North Korea is well-known for its constant antics that raise alarms across the whole Pacific region, including missile launches, nuclear tests, and never-ending threats of all-out war. South Korea, meanwhile, tends to stick with propaganda stunts designed to inform North Koreans about their southern neighbor. In the spirit of Christmas in 2014, it decided to literally shine a light (actually closer to hundreds of lights) on Christmas to the people of North Korea. A 30-foot Christmas tree lit up on a hill two miles from the 38th Parallel almost literally started a war on Christmas.
It all began when a Christian group petitioned the government of South Korea to erect a large Christmas tree-like structure atop a hill overlooking the demilitarized zone. The South Korean government approved, despite being keenly aware that North Korea hates Christmas – because of course it does.
North Korea’s government isn’t just a government, its legitimacy is almost like that of a medieval king. The Kim Family doesn’t just have a divine right to rule, they are themselves divine. Kim Jong-Un’s personality cult, like those of his father and grandfather, elevates him to a god-like status inside North Korea. So unless Christmas is suddenly celebrating the birth of Kim Jong-Un, they want none of it, as it is a direct threat to his status as a deity.
The government of North Korea’s response to the tree lighting was not keeping in the spirit of Christmas. Instead, they threatened to light it up themselves, with some of the estimated 6,000 pieces of artillery that are within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul. As long as the North Koreans could still see the tree, it was still a danger to the tense “peace” on the Korean Peninsula.
The Kims have actually been threatening war against Christmas (or more specifically, this tree and its lighting ceremony) for decades. The tree was first lit up as a religious event in 1971. Almost immediately, North Korea, then ruled by Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, threatened to destroy it. Kim called the tree a “tool of psychological warfare” because it was visible on the North Korean side of the border.
Kim Jong-Un, like his father and grandfather before him, continue to outdo the Grinch when it comes to stopping Christmas. South Korea finally took down the propaganda tree in 2004 amid a warming of relations between North and South. In 2010 and 2012, they put it back up after a series of unprovoked North Korean attacks that killed a total of 50 people. Kim renewed the threat for 2014.
North Korea finally stopped threatening South Korea with total warfare over a Christmas tree in 2014. It wasn’t because Kim Jong-Un was suddenly visited by three ghosts of Christmas (probably), it was because South Korea finally stopped erecting the tree that year. The South says it wasn’t because of the North Korean threat (which never happened), it claimed it was because the tree itself became structurally unsound and they worried the entire structure might collapse – a bad look for propaganda, if that was the tree’s real purpose.