In Korean culture, age is very important, and it’s no different for birthday celebrations. Korean people love to get together with friends and family to celebrate their birthdays. As Korean learners, birthday is also a great opportunity for us to partake in Korean culture and improve our language skills while having fun. But first, let’s learn how to say “happy birthday” in Korean.
In this article, we’ll talk about different ways to say “happy birthday” in Korean. We’ll also touch upon the cultural elements by introducing to you how Koreans normally talk about and celebrate their birthdays.
Happy Birthday in Korean
First, let’s start with how to say happy birthday in Korean. As is common in the Korean language, there are various ways to say something depending on formality and familiarity.
생일 축하합니다 is the most common and formal way to say happy birthday in Korean, which is also how it is sung in the Happy Birthday Song. You can use this in almost any birthday situation: for your boss, coworkers, strangers, and friends.
- 생일 축하합니다! (saeng-il chu-kah-ham-ni-da) = Happy Birthday!
– 생일 (saeng-il) = Birthday
– 축하합니다(chu-kah-ham-ni-da) = celebrate or congratulations which equates to “Happy”
– 축하합니다 comes from the base form of the verb 축하하다 (chu-kah-hada)
A less formal and more friendly way to say happy birthday in Korean is by changing the verb ending to ~해요 (hey-yo). This is very common, but still polite. You may often see it on birthday balloons and cards. You could use this with coworkers, acquaintances, and friends of friends.
- 생일 축하해요 (saeng-il chu-kah-hae-yo)
In a very familiar and friendly birthday situation, you can use the less formal verb conjugation, which is the shortest. This is often used with close friends of the same age.
- 생일 축하해 (saeng-il chu-kah-hay)
If the situation is very formal or when speaking to someone with whom you want to convey respect and that person is much older than you, you should use….
- 생신을 축하드립니다 (saeng-shin) chu-kah-deu-rim-ni-da)
This is a combination of…
– 생신 (saeng-shin), which also means “Birthday” but is respectful and used toward older generations; like a grandfather or grandmother.
– 축하 (chuk-ha), which is contraction of 축하하다 (chuk-ha-hada), meaning “celebrate” or “congratulate”
– Combined with, 드리다 (deu-rida) – which the base conjugation of the formal version of the verb “to give”
Birthday-related expressions in Korean
If you want to know when someone’s birthday is, you can ask:
– Informal: “생일 언제 에요?” (saeng-il un-jae – aeyo)
– More formal: “생일 언제 입니까?” (seang-il -un-jae- imnika)
If you were asked by someone the above questions, you can reply:
– “제 생일은 (month number)월 (date)일 입니다.” (Jae saeng-il-eun) month (weol) + date (il – imnida)
- 월 = months, as in 1,2,3,4,5,6, etc. For example, June = 6월
- 일 – date or day of the month. For example, the 21st = 21일
- e.b. 6월 21일 = June 21st
It’s very common for Koreans to ask about someone’s age, as it dictates a lot of communication formalities in the Korean language. The Korean age system, however, is quite different from the English one. You can learn more about it from our previous post Korean Age.
– “몇 살이에요?” (myeot-sal-ieyo) = How old are you?
– 나는 (#) 살이에요. (na-nuen) insert number (sal-eeiyo) = I am (#) years old.
Something else you might say on someone’s birthday:
– “뭐 갖고싶어요?” (meou gat-go ship-uhyo?) = What do you want to get/ receive?
– insert gift + 주세요 (ju-seayo) = Please give me insert gift
Pretty easy, right? Just say what you want to receive and add 주세요 (please give).
– For example: 돈 주세요 (don ju-saeyo) = Please give me money
Birthday culture in South Korea
A common tradition in Korea is to eat Rice Cake Soup (떡국 – deok-gook) on your birthday. Although this is commonly eaten on the Korean Lunar New Year birthday, and not someone’s actual day of birth. Korean’s have two birthdays: 1) Lunar New Year, when everyone gets a year older together and 2) Your own actual birthday.
It is also often recommended to eat Seaweed Soup (미역국 – me-yeok-gook) on your actual birthday. This is a tradition that can be linked to another tradition: pregnant mothers eating this nutrient rich soup during and after pregnancy. The soup considered very healthy for your digestive system, and it’s a delicious way to link your birthday to your actual day of birth.
Probably the most common and tasty way that Koreans celebrate birthdays is with cake (케이크/ kay-eekue). It’s so common that it seems as if an entire micro-industry has developed around the sale of birthday cakes. Even in adulthood, it’s not a birthday party without a cake. Shops like Baskin Robbins and other bakeries offer ready-made, beautifully crafted, tasty cakes that can be purchased on the go. It’s quite common to see Koreans carrying a cake box on their way somewhere, which proves how popular this custom is. These cakes come in all types of flavors and decorative options and can ever be personalized with quick add-ons.
Gifts and cards
Koreans are great gift givers: from expensive items like shoes and jewelry, to smaller, more heartfelt gifts (선물/ seon-mul), such as cards (카드 / ka-deu) and letters (편지/ peon-gi). Gifts are always included, and often young friends pool their money together to give their friends an expensive gift. With KakaoTalk (Korea’s messaging app), it’s very easy to send a gift card or digital gift via a message, which is often used by people who can’t attend the party. Of course, cash is king, and everybody will be delighted to receive some cash (현금/ hyun-guem) on their birthday. In fact, adult children often give cash to parents on their birthdays as a sign of appreciation for all the hard-earned money they have spent on them while they were growing up.
Food and alcohol
Birthday celebrations in South Korea take place almost anywhere: work, cafes, parks, homes, etc. But the most common way for Koreans to celebrate is at a restaurant, bar, or club with good friends. Soju (소주), beer (맥주/maek-joo), so-maek (소맥/so-maek: a combination of beer and soju), and delicious food are usually the preferred method of celebrations. After the second round, known as 이차(ee-cha), Koreans often make their way to a nearby singing room, called a norae-bang (노래방) to keep the party going.f Dancing, singing, and drinking with close friends until the early morning hours.
However, unlike birthday parties in Western culture, the birthday boy or girl is expected to pick up the dinner tab. So, you may want to limit the size of your birthday gathering if you are worried about paying for dinner. But don’t worry too much, your friends will take care of you for the rest of the night.
One of the more interesting birthday customs in Korea is that of the 1st Birthday Party. Obviously, this kind of birthday party is more for the parents, relatives, and friends to come and visit the newborn (maybe for the first time). The party is often held at a nice buffet, and the child is adorned in traditional Korean attire called Hanbok (한복) befitting of a young king or queen. This birthday is playful, but considered very important to the child’s future.
The most important part of the 1st birthday is the ritual called doljabi (돌잡이) in which the baby must choose their future. In front of the baby will be placed several items containing different meanings. For example:
– a banknote / cash: signifying future wealth and success
– a microphone: signifying future fame or talent
– a book or pen: signifying intelligence and diligence
– a thread: indicating a long life
– a ball: indicating potential athletic skill
Whatever item the child grabs with his or her tiny hands is considered a sign of their future. For example, if the baby chooses the microphone, it is believed that he or she will be a good singer or actor.
Happy birthday song in Korean
And naturally, it wouldn’t be a birthday without a birthday song (생일 노래). Fortunately, the birthday song follows the same tenor and rhythm that we use in the English language version, so it’s very easy to learn. You can see the lyrics below, which more-or-less are a direct translation to the common American-English birthday song.
♩ ♪ ♫
생일 축하합니다 – Happy birthday to you
생일 축하합니다 – Happy birthday to you
사랑하는 (insert name) 씨 – Dear (insert name)
생일 축하합니다 – Happy birthday to you.
saranghaneun (insert name) ssi
As we end our article with a piece of happy birthday song by Korean star Song Joon Ki, let’s not forget to learn Korean language. Make use of situations like birthdays to have fun with your Korean friends and improve your Korean skills. Or use tools like LingoDeer to learn Korean on your own!
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