By Don Southerton, KoreaLegal.org Editor
Christmas has become a popular holiday in South Korea.
Nevertheless, Christmas is seen as a distinctly Christian holiday.
That said, as the holidays approach, western teams may wish to
greet Korean colleagues with:
Sae hae bok man i ba deu say yo! (Seasons Greetings)
Hint: Break the greeting into: sae hae bok-mahne-bah deu say yo
Sae hae bok man i ba deu say yo! works well both in person, in a
card, or an email. In fact, it is a common seasonal greeting into
the New Year.
“The first Christmas in Korea.”
A number of years ago while researching early Westerners in Korea,
I came upon an account of the first “official” Christmas tree in
Korea. I thought I’d share the story…
Since the mid 1880s, Anglo merchants, diplomats, and missionaries
who lived and worked in Korea celebrated their respective national
and religious holidays. Most often these were small affairs as
there were few foreigners dwelling in Korea-most Anglos were
concentrated in the port towns and Seoul. Naturally some Koreans
were curious of these strange western ceremonies and started asking
questions, especially about Christmas.
The Korean royal family was no exception. In December 1893, King
Kojong and his wife Queen Min became very curious about the holiday
and started to inquire about its significance. In fact, Queen Min
summoned her closest western friend and personal physician,
missionary Lillias Underwood to explain about Christmas. That year
on Christmas day, Queen Min sent the Underwood family gifts of
expensive cloth and silk screens.
Encouraged by the queen’s gesture and aware of the royal family’s
curiosity, Lillias asked to set up a Christmas tree in the
palace-even though it was several days after Christmas.
Accounts tell of Lillias putting a great deal of effort into
trimming the tree. When finished Lillias was somewhat disappointed
with the results, as “their majesties were too impatient to wait
till dark to view it.” With no heavy drapes to block the lights
from the windows, the full effect of the Christmas tree was “quite
spoiled.” Lillias cited “the poor little candles flickered in a
sickly way in the glaring daylight.” Nevertheless in spite of her
concerns, Lillias did introduce the holiday tradition to the Korean
On behalf of myself and Bridging Culture Worldwide have a happy
Sae hae bok man i ba deu say yo!
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