North Korea Howls About South Korea’s Christmas Lights, Forcing Shutdown

North Korea’s furious protest of South Korea’s Christmas lights along the border results in lights out.

Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

North Korea’s so serious about mourning Kim Jong Il that it’s cancelled Christmas. That is to say, Pyongyang’s furious protests over South Korea’s plan to display Christmas lights near the two sides’ border has persuaded Seoul to cancel the display as a gesture of good will.

"Psychological warfare” is how the communist regime of North Korea described the capitalist South’s plan to switch on the lights topping three tree-shaped steel towers at Aegibong within two miles of the North-South border, reported the Daily Telegraph. Seoul’s Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik, who is responsible for cross-border ties, emerged from a meeting of senior South Korean officials Tuesday to announce the holiday lighting display would be postponed out of respect for the official mourning period announced by Pyongyang.

The cult of personality around their late leader is so intense–as is the official mandate to be seen to be mourning--that North Koreans have erupted in public and physical demonstrations of grief such as flailing arms and anguished wailing. Their mourning is expected to be protracted and widespread, as it was after the July 1994 death of Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung, when sports competitions were reportedly postponed for two years.

The Christmas border lights were supposed to be illuminated from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6, and would have been within sight–and firing range--of North Korean frontier guards. In 2004 the South shelved the annual festivities after the two Koreas agreed to halt cross-border propaganda efforts. But a year ago, after four South Koreans were killed in a shelling attack by Pyongyang on a border island, the South resumed its lighting display–which Pyongyang called a “dangerous, rash act” with the capability of triggering actual war.

The officially atheist regime in the North allows only a small number of churches to hold services for foreigners. It has previously accused the South of using the Christmas border lights as a means of Christian proselytization among North Korean residents and soldiers. When the South resumed displaying Christmas lights on the border in 2010, after a seven-year hiatus, the scene was so tense that armed South Korean troops guarded the lighting ceremony, with fire trucks and ambulances nearby, in case of a North Korean attack.

This year, even before Kim’s death, Pyongyang had warned of “unexpected consequences” if Seoul switched on the lights. After Kim died Saturday, Seoul’s desire to maintain stability and calm regional jitters persuaded South Korean officials to pull the plug on the lighting plan.