Korean Culture: Birthdays and Calculating Age

As part of my Korean language course at our local community college, our instructor is teaching us about different aspects of the Korean culture.  She has graciously given me permission to share this information on my blog.  Many thanks to Mrs. Lee!

* Why is it that Koreans say they are a year or two older than we expect them to be? 

 As stated previously, age is very important to Koreans. In Korea, age partially determines status and shapes the way one interacts with others. So why do Korean seem to count age differently than Westerners do?

First, because Koreans count the time that a baby spends in the womb, newborn babies are considered to be a year old. In addition to that, Koreans don’t think of the birthday in the way that Westerners do. 

Rather, following tradition, when the old year ends and the new year begins on the morning of the Lunar New Year, everyone eats 떡국 [ddeok guk] (a Soup made with rice cakes) and “eats” another year in age (Koreans say 한 살을 먹다 [han sa leul meog dda]). So, no matter when your actual birthday is, your Korean age increases on the New Year rater than your birthday. Therefore, depending on the time of year, your Korean age is 1 or 2 years older than your age by Western reckoning. This could make a big difference in age.  

For example, a baby born in December meets the world at age 1 and turns 2 the following January. In Korea, when one needs to write down an age for formal purposes, one either writes down the date of birth (year, month, day) or calculates in the Western way, with the word 만 [man] attached, Some people who would rather knock a couple years off their age opt to use this 만 [man] age all the time!

Happy Birthday Song Lyrics (Korean)

생일축하함니다

생일축하함니다

사랑하는 (insert name)

생일축하함니다

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