The officially atheist Hermit Kingdom does not permit the celebration of Christmas, and isn't too thrilled about South Korea's deeply devout Christians celebrating either. Though North Korea's constitution says it guarantees freedom of religion, at the time of Kim Jong Il's death, human rights activists estimated that there were between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians in North Korean labor camps. And those are the lucky ones -- missionaries caught distributing bibles, and anyone caught worshipping secretly can be tortured or executed, or both. So far, Kim Jong Un has turned out to be just as intolerant as his father. One woman told the New York Times in October, "If the government finds out I'm reading the Bible, I'm dead."
North Korea is so worried about Santa and his little helpers that last year, the People's Democratic Republic warned of "unexpected consequences" if the South Korean government allowed a Christian group to light a 100-foot tall Christmas tree-shaped tower just two miles from the North Korean border. The tree tower had been around for years, but as relations between the two countries improved under the South's conciliatory "sunshine policy," the tree was left unlit at Christmastime. Then, in December 2010, with tensions rising again after North Korea's 2009 nuclear test and its May 2010 shelling of a South Korean island, South Korea lit the "tree," which was clearly visible in the North Korean city of Kaesong. The North Korean regime regularly accuses South Korea of trying to spread Christianity among its people, but Uriminzokkiri, a state-run news website, kicked the outrage up a notch, calling the tree lighting "a mean form of psychological warfare."
In 2011, South Korea was going to light the tree -- as well as two more -- despite North Korea's threats, but the lighting was canceled out of respect for the mourning period following Kim Jong Il's death. This year, the South Koreans decided to go ahead with it -- and despite some warnings that Kim Jong Un has decided to strike the tree, the Wall Street Journal reports, "judging from the official state media, North Korea seems not to care very much."KIM JAE-MYUNG/AFP/Getty Images