Everything You Need to Know about Korean Gift Culture

8 minute read

Korean Gift Culture

Interested in Korean gifts?

Want to know what Koreans give each other on each holiday or occasion?

Look no further!

Here’s a complete guide to Korean gift culture.

When do Koreans give gifts?

1. January or February: Seollal

Seollal is Korean Lunar New Years. It’s one of the biggest holidays in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

During this time, Koreans visit grandparents or parents and exchange small gifts like socks.

Normally, people get a big bonus or gift from their companies, such as amenity sets, packages of Spam or canned food.

As a kid, this is the perfect time to get pocket money in an envelope from relatives.

When you come of age, as in get a job, it’s time to repay this by giving gifts to elders and money to younger relatives.

Newlyweds need to buy more thoughtful gifts for parents like KGC red ginseng.

2. February 14: Valentine’s Day

Korean Valentine’s Day is a bit different from other countries.

★What gifts do they give?

It’s a day when women give chocolate to men (usually girlfriends to boyfriends).

If you’re hot, you’ll receive many boxes of chocolate and be asked out.

3. March 14: White Day

It began in Japan, but is very common in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

On White Day, men give candy to women (usually boyfriends to girlfriends) in return.

Just like Valentine’s Day in Korea, pretty girls will get lots of candies.

4. May: Children’s Day on May 5, Parents’ Day on May 8, Teachers’ Day on May 15

May is also known as Family Month in Korea. It’s when Koreans can’t save much money.

★What gifts do they give?

As you can imagine, children receive toys or dolls on Children’s Day.

They also get to spend time with their parents, usually at the zoo or amusement park.

Instead of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Koreans celebrate Parents’ Day at the same time on May 8.

Most kids give carnations to their parents with a letter.

Adults usually give carnations and cash.

I once gave my parents carnations made of gold. I’m planning to buy them a massage chair as it’s a popular gift for parents.

This might be compensation for the stress we gave them.

5. September or October: Chuseok

Chuseok is like Korean Thanksgiving, except it’s celebrated during the harvest moon.

After Seollal, it’s the second biggest holiday in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

Gifts are nearly identical to those given on Seollal.

6. November 11: Pepero Day

A huge marketing success for Lotte in Korea.

★What gifts do they give?

People exchange Pepero snacks on November 11 since the date looks like Pepero sticks (11/11).

Couples usually give each other Pepero, but anyone can exchange them regardless of gender or age.

7. December 25: Christmas

Unlike westerners who celebrate Christmas with family, most Koreans spend Christmas with their significant other.

And of course, they exchange gifts.

★What gifts do they give?

Men usually get leather gloves, watches or brand wallets like Mont Blanc or Gucci.

Women usually get accessories, watches or cosmetics like SK2.

Koreans always eat cake on Christmas too. As in western style cake, usually from bakery chains.

8. Miscellaneous: Birthday, Anniversary, Business Gifts

Koreans love giving gifts on birthdays.

★What gifts do they give?

Cosmetics, accessories, or coffee/dessert coupons can be great presents.

Also, Koreans celebrate anniversaries frequently.

Couples celebrate 100th day, every year, 1000th day, and so on.

Girls normally receive perfume, jewelry, brand purses; whereas guys get cologne, couple shoes, etc.

Also, Koreans love getting couple rings, even when they’re not married.

When Koreans open a new business, they give plants as a gift.

The Eternity Plant is 금전수 or 돈나무 in Korean, and is believed to bring luck (money).

What gifts do Koreans like?

Money!

No one will take offence if you give them money in Korea, as long as it’s in an envelope.

It’s a common gift for children or parents.

Even at weddings, Koreans give money at the entrance and then receive a meal coupon.

Only close friends give gifts like TVs or rice cookers to newlyweds.

Anything related to health

This includes:

  • Health supplements like vitamins, omega-3, red ginseng, probiotics
  • Healthy and delicious food ingredients like Korean beef (한우 or hanwoo), expensive mushrooms, wild ginseng
  • Massage devices and chairs that range from 30 dollars to thousands.

Alcohol

Ajeossi (아저씨 or middle-aged men) especially love this gift.

Their preferred brands include Chivas Regal 18 or Ballantine’s 21 Year Old.

Go for Chivas Regal 25 YO or Ballantine’s 30 YO if you really want to impress someone.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label is also a solid choice.

These gifts boost social standing and make the receiver feel important. Very useful when you want to gain favor.

Cosmetics

As the birthplace of K-Beauty, Koreans pay a lot of attention to grooming.

It’s common to give cosmetics as a present.

For women, L’OCCITANE hand cream or MAC lipstick are safe choices.

For men, all-in-one cosmetics DTRT or cologne work well.

Coffee and Dessert

Koreans drink 12.3 cups of coffee per week.

Whenever I meet someone in Korea, I end up going to a cafe whether they’re my friends, family or business associates.

It makes sense that coffee coupons are one of the most casual and common gifts.

Most Koreans send coffee coupons for Starbucks through KakaoTalk Gift.

Which app do Koreans use to send gifts?

Almost every Korean uses the KakaoTalk messenger app.

Even my 81-year-old grandmother has an account.

Since everyone uses the app, it naturally became a platform for giving gifts.

People can choose any gift, purchase it within the app, then send a barcode with a cute card message.

Once you receive the gift message, you can either use the barcode at stores like Starbucks, or order the item to be delivered to your address.

Popular gifts are Starbucks coffee, cakes, fried chicken delivery, and even YSL lipsticks.

A wide range of choices.

Interesting fact about gift culture in Korea

Unlike in western culture, Koreans don’t open a gift right away.

They usually take it home to open it when the giver isn’t around.

When Koreans want to open a gift right away, they politely ask, “may I open this? (열어봐도 괜찮아요?)”.

Another interesting situation is when Koreans get the first paycheck from their first job.

Koreans usually get their first job after graduating college.

And it’s common for Korean parents to pay for everything, including tuition, until they do.

So a tradition of buying thermal underwear (내복 or naebok) formed to show gratitude, even when it’s not winter.

30 years ago, the best gift was “red” thermal underwear due to nylon being developed in the 1960s.

Back then, the easiest color to dye nylon with was red.

Since it looked warm and symbolized health and wealth, it became a must-buy gift.

Now, red thermal underwear can be seen more in comedy shows, and most people buy plain colors like gray or beige.

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed my article.

Leave a comment on what your favorite Korean gift is.


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