Korean Holiday Greeting

By Don Southerton, 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

holiday season!

Sae hae bok man i ba deu say yo!

Questions? Feel free to contact  dsoutherton@bridgingculture.com





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