South Korea is a stunning country in East Asia. It boasts dizzying high-tech cities alongside deep-rooted traditions. The combination of new meets old makes an exciting and dynamic culture. If you aren’t from there, navigating the holidays in South Korea, their traditions, and the gifting culture at large can be daunting.
But never fear! You’ll find general gift tips, brief explanations of popular holidays in South Korea, and gift suggestions. The most important advice we can give you is right at the top. Don’t hesitate to ask your friends, family, and coworkers about their favorite holidays in South Korea! Yes – even ask them about the gifts they like receiving and when. You’ll build a more personal connection, and your gift choices will benefit greatly from the insider information. If you want to impress them with a surprise, keep on reading.
Gift-Giving Etiquette in South Korea
Before diving into information about specific holidays – learning a bit about general gift-giving etiquette is highly recommended. The first thing to note is that it is common for there to be some resistance to receiving a gift. South Koreans (and many other Asian cultures) consider it good manners to refuse a gift initially. Make sure you insist, keeping in mind that most will generally accept a gift after two or three refusals. If there is more than that, consider checking in to see if their refusal in genuine.
Secondly, you’ll want to keep in mind that it is customary in South Korea for people to return the gesture. This means when you give a gift, you will likely receive one from the recipient later. To avoid any awkwardness, keep your recipient’s economic situation in mind – do not give anything overly expensive.
When visiting someone’s home in South Korea – bringing a gift is considered good manners. Imported liquor, decadent sweets, and flowers are ideal gifts for this situation. Remember that you should give any gifts in person using both hands. Unless you are very close friends or family, your recipient will likely open the gift later.
Popular Holidays in South Korea
There are many festivals and holidays in South Korea to enjoy. But, with so many celebrations going on, keeping track can be a challenge. Nearly every holiday shares an underlying theme: quality time with family being the most important. If giving a gift isn’t an option during the holidays, taking the time to call or write can often mean just as much, if not more, to your friends and family.
Seollal – Lunar New Year’s Day
Seollal is the most celebrated traditional holiday in South Korea. Also known as Lunar New Year’s Day, this holiday falls on the first day of the lunar calendar – typically in January or February. This New Year celebration is the ideal time to send friends, family, and business partners gifts. Cash gifts, presented in elegant envelopes, called “sebae” are given to children to wish them prosperity. When sending Lunar New Year gifts, consider baskets themed in red and filled with fresh fruit, sweets, or festive liquors. These items are thought to welcome prosperity and luck for the year ahead.
Chuseok – Harvest Festival
Of all the holidays in South Korea, Chuseok is probably the second biggest. This holiday is celebrated from the 14th day of the 8th lunar month through the 16th day of the 8th lunar month. This typically falls in autumn, around September – October. This year Chuseok celebrations take place on September 28th – September 30th. But what is the Chuseok holiday in South Korea?
Chuseok is a harvest festival celebrating the bounty of farmers, and operates much like an American Thanksgiving. South Koreans go to great lengths to travel home to spend time with friends and family and enjoy comfort food and time together. One big difference is that gifts Chuseok gifts are a common and welcome practice. Typically family exchanges small gifts like money, clothes, candles, and other odds and ends. If you’d like to send a larger gift, healthy gifts, such as vitamins, fresh fruits, and other wellness items are incredibly popular during this holiday.
Eorininal – Children’s Day
Eorininal, or Children’s Day, is a bustling holiday in South Korea celebrated on May 5th. This holiday is a day set aside for parents to spend time with their children, taking them out to adventures of their choosing. Extended family often send children small gifts such as books, items for school, and sweet treats on children’s day. This is the perfect time to go the extra mile for your friends or family with children, sending them a sweet dessert to share together at the end of their adventures!
Eobeoinal – Parent’s Day
Parent’s Day is exactly what it sounds like. Celebrate on May 8th; this holiday serves as both Mother’s and Father’s Day. This is the time to show appreciation to those who raised you. Traditional Parent’s Day presents are carnations or other flowers. Shops in South Korea go out of their way to ensure that stands of these flowers are easily in reach for children of all ages so everyone can celebrate. If you’d like to spoil mom and dad with more grown up gifts, they’ll be more than appreciated.
Seuseung-ui Nal – Teacher’s Day
Another holiday in May, Teacher’s Day is celebrated on May 15th. Educators in South Korea are highly respected, and Teacher’s Day is a big deal, especially for students. Gift baskets with coffee, or gourmet treats, are popular surprises for any teacher.
Gifts for Other Reasons in South Korea
Holidays are far from the only time to send gifts to South Korea. Especially since good manners in South Korea demand that any time you receive a gift, one of similar value should be given later in return. Ensuring you send your gifts at key times can help you and recipients avoid ending up in an endless gift war. As fun as that sounds, being too aggressive with your gifting can actually be seen as rude and aggressive in South Korea.
Corporate gifting is not only common in South Korea, it’s expected. Business gifts to celebrate a merger, closing a business deal, or show appreciation are common practices. Office items and branded gifts are great first business gifts to send. At the very least, take care to have your company logo on the greeting card.
When sending corporate gifts to South Korea, keep in mind that rank is very important. If you send something to the whole team or office, give gifts based on position. Managers, senior partners, and especially the CEO should get gifts that are clearly of a higher value than those who rank below them. If you are sending a gourmet gift meant for everyone to share, it is still a good idea to send the VIPs a little something extra. A box of gourmet chocolates or their own bottle of wine will do nicely.
What better time to spoil someone than on their wedding day? South Koreans take weddings very seriously, and they are often very elaborate affairs. Take care when choosing a wedding gift for your recipients in South Korea. If you attend the wedding in person, money and a thoughtful card in an elegant envelope are the expected gifts. However, if you are not able to attend in person, it is considered polite to send a gift to the newlyweds to congratulate them on their special day. Gifts of quality wine or liquor are most common.
Money gifts are once again the top choice for those celebrating a birthday – especially if it is their first birthday. However, the closer you are to the birthday person, the more insider information you have. Sending a birthday gift that includes items the recipient enjoys or has been looking for is not only a thoughtful gesture. In South Korea – it also shows just how close you are to the person, as it is considered somewhat risky to give non-monetary birthday gifts. Gifts of quality alcohol are also hugely popular, and a good deal safer. Since alcohol plays an important role in South Korea’s personal and professional culture, helping to stock their bar is always a good move.
Sending romantic gifts to your love in South Korea is all about making a classy statement. You’ll want to ensure that you surprise them on all the big holidays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day or White Day, of course. But you’ll also want to be sure that you send occasional just because flowers or sweets. If their office allows it, sending a bouquet to their workplace can be a thoughtful way to brighten their day and deepen your relationship.
Showing gratitude to those who help you in life is a huge deal in South Korea. Thank-you gifts don’t have to be large; a small sweet basket is often enough. However, thank you gifts also provide a great opportunity to reciprocate a previous gift. That shouldn’t be the only reason you send the gift, but if your recipient sent you a gift that you haven’t reciprocated yet, you should factor that into your gift selection.
If you need to make amends, the universal rule is that actions speak louder than words. This is particularly true in South Korean culture. The size of your mistake should help you determine the size of your apology gift. Keep in mind, sincere words are still needed. Take the time to write a thoughtful card, and follow up after you’ve sent the gift. You must show that you’re actively trying to make amends, and ensuring you’ve talked everything out with your recipient is key.
Last Thoughts on Gifts to South Korea
While just because gifts aren’t the most common in South Korea, you shouldn’t count them out. If you are particularly close to someone, they are certainly welcome. Whatever the reason for sending your gift to South Korea, take care to do so thoughtfully. Be open and ready for feedback from your recipient, and you’ll do fine.
If this blog leaves you curious about more holidays in South Korea, you can find more information on our site. But if you’re ready and waiting to surprise your friends, family, and colleagues in South Korea with thoughtful gifts dive right into our catalog. We’ve divided it into sections highlighting popular holiday gifts in South Korea and popular gift categories and suggestions for those extra-special occasions in life.
You’ve Learned About Holidays in South Korea & Other Gift Tips: Now What?
- – Send gifts to your friends, family, and colleagues in South Korea now!
- – Continue exploring international gifting culture by reading our blog: Gifts to Ireland – Tips for Surprising Friends, Family, and Colleagues.
- – Subscribe to our blog to get more corporate gifting tips.
With 10 years of experience dedicated to unraveling the intricate nuances of gracious gift-giving, she brings a wealth of insight and expertise to this timeless art.
Sempronia has an unwavering passion for celebrating the profound significance of thoughtful giving. Through her writing, she aims to enlighten and educate readers on the etiquette, traditions, and subtleties that envelop the world of gift-giving.