Characteristics of Korean Families
Family life in Korea is unique. Marriage immigrants who understand the characteristics of Korean families can more easily adjust to their new families and understand the culture of Korea. Family culture can vary by family and by region, but Korean culture is largely based on Confucianism. The family culture of Korea has some similarities to that of other Confucian-influenced countries, but has diverted from its traditional roots through the course of rapid industrialization.
1) Family Relations
- In Korea, a harmonious family is just as important as each member's happiness.
- Hierarchy is important within the family. Children should be taught to respect their elders and to express their opinions in a polite manner.
- Parent-child relationships are special. Korean parents place great emphasis on providing love and care for their children. Sometimes, they can overindulge their children and cause them to become too dependent.
- For the relationship between adult children and elderly parents, "immediate family norm" in fostering parents has been weakened, but exchanges between them have increased; the quality of relationship has been improved as well.
2) Husband and Wife Relationship
- The husband and wife relationship is important, but your role as a son or daughter and a parent plays a large part as well.
- In the past, household chores and childcare were considered to be the job of the woman. However, in modern society, men are becoming increasingly involved in performing household chores and taking care of the children.
- Traditional Korean men are unaccustomed to expressing affection for their wives. Especially, complimenting or expressing affection for their wives in front of their parents or families was seen as an act of foolishness; even today, many Korean men are hesitant to demonstratively express their feelings.
Adapting to Family Life
In order to have a happy marriage in Korea, it is important to overcome cultural differences.
It can be difficult to adapt to family life and culture in Korea. If you are experiencing problems with your spouse, keep the following in mind.
- 1. Try to understand each other's family culture.
- 2. Learn more about family traditions from your husband and in-laws.
- 3. Solve problems through communication.
- 4. Seek help from others.
Korean Festivals and Holidays
Important Days of Celebration for Families
In family life, there are many significant events that take place, such as births, marriages, or deaths of family members or friends. These are important to both the individual and the family, and it is important to spend time together as a family on these occasions.
- Baekil (One Hundredth Day): In Korea, the hundredth day following the birth of a child is cause for celebration. Typical foods served at a hundredth day celebration include steamed rice cakes, honey cakes made from red bean, and seaweed soup. The child is dressed in new clothes to celebrate this special day.
- First Birthday: Relatives and close friends are invited to the baby's first birthday party. The baby is usually dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean garments), and a special table is prepared. Traditionally, baekseolgi (steamed white rice cake), songpyeon (half-moon-shaped rice cake), and susukyungdan (a kind of honey cake made of glutinous kaoliang) are set on the table. There is also a ritual in which fruit, thread, rice, money, a pencil, and a book (recently, sometimes even a stethoscope, microphone, etc.) are put in front of the birthday child. Depending on what the baby grabs, a different blessing is said for the child and his/her future. In recent years, it is more common for restaurants and other event halls to prepare the birthday table instead of the parents.
- Birthdays: With regards to one's elders, birthdays are referred to as “saengshin”. In Korea, seaweed soup is cooked for breakfast on birthdays. Sometimes, relatives and friends are invited to celebrate together.
The invited guests prepare birthday gifts or give money.
Both traditional and modern weddings take place in Korea, but these days traditional weddings are disappearing in favor of more modern weddings. Modern weddings are performed at wedding halls, hotels, churches, and temples. During the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom wears a tuxedo, and the bride wears a dress. After the ceremony, both bride and groom change into traditional Korean traditional garments and serve Pyebaek to the groom's parents and other seniors. These days, it is common to serve Pyebaek to
3) Hoegap and Gohiyeon (Banquets to wish for longevity)
- Hoegap: Hoegap is when a person turns 60 (61 in Korean age). Children typically prepare a large party for their parents, celebrating their long and healthy lives. Hoegap was even more significant in the past when the average lifespan was relatively short. As the average lifespan has increased over the years, Hoegap celebrations have gotten simpler. In the past, a large feast was held as the major means of
celebration, but in recent years, it is becoming increasingly common for a child to send their parents on vacation, or give them a heartfelt gift and some money.
- Gohiyeon: Gohiyeon is when a person turns 70 (71 years old in Korean age). Relatives and close friends are invited, and a bigger party is held than in previous years. Some people also bring presents to the party.
At funerals, the family of the deceased prepares clothes of mourning and the deceased is dressed in special garments as well. Typically, the garments for the deceased are prepared in advance for the elderly while they are still alive. These garments differ by household and region. In some cases, the deceased is dressed in hemp clothes, in black or white. Guests attending a munsang should avoid wearing bright colors, and dress in black or white. During munsang, it is important to pay your respects and pray together with the family. Money is also offered to the family as a means of showing condolences.
Korean rituals help the participants foster a sense of belonging and identity while remembering their ancestors.
- Gijesa (Death Memorial Service): This is a service performed on the night that a person passes away. Normally, Koreans continue to perform the service on the anniversary of their ancestors' death, up to two generations back.
- Charye (Family Memorial Service): Performed at festivals such as the New Year's Day, Hansik, and Chuseok.
There are a variety of festivals and seasonal events in Korea.
The Korean calendar uses both solar and lunar dates. Festivals usually follow the lunar calendar.
Seollal (Lunar New Year)
- Meaning: First day of the lunar new year
- Food: Rice cake soup, dumplings
- Characteristics: Wearing new clothes (seolbim), giving a new year's greetings to your elders, visiting ancestral graves, and playing a game of yut
※ Seollal and the days immediately before and after Seollal (December 31, January 1, and January 2 on the lunar calendar) are public holidays.
Chuseok (August 15 on the Lunar Calendar)
- Meaning: Harvest festival
- Food: The year's new crops and fruits and Songpyeon
- Characteristics: Ancestor memorial services, visiting ancestral graves, viewing the full moon, and enjoying a Korean circle dance
※ Chuseok and the days immediately before and after Chuseok (August 14, August 15, and August 16 on the lunar calendar) are public holidays.
- January 1st: First day of the solar new year
- Samil-jeol (Samil Independence Movement Day, March 1): On this day in 1919, there was a nationwide independence movement to protest Japanese colonial rule.
- Seokga Tansil-il (Buddha's Birthday, April 8 on the lunar calendar): This is the day on which Koreans celebrate the birth of Buddha.
- Eorini-nal (Children's Day, May 5): This is a day that celebrates the joy of children and promotes child welfare.
- Hyeonchung-il (Memorial Day, June 6): This is a day for honoring national heroes, including those who died during the Korean War.
- Gwangbok-jeol (Independence Day, August 15): On this day in 1945, Korea was liberated from under Japanese colonial rule.
- Gaecheon-jeol (National Foundation Day, October 3): This is the day on which the Korean nation was founded. In Korean, Gaecheon-jeol means "the day on which the sky opened."
- Hangeul Day (October 9): This holiday celebrates the proclamation of Hangeul (the Korean Alphabet) by King Sejong and promotes the research and spread of Hangeul.
- Seongtan-jeol (Christmas, December 25): This is the day that Koreans celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
1) Bap (Boilded Rice)
These four kinds of foods are cooked by boiling vegetables and beef, pork, or fish in water. They are named according to their ingredients and how they are prepared: 00 guk, 00 tang, 00 jjigae, or 00 jeongol.
- Korean rice is stickier than Southeast Asian rice.
- Those who are not used to this type of rice may experience a slight stomachache or indigestion at first.
- It takes about a week to get used to Korean rice.
2) Guk (Light Soup), Tang (Soup with Meat or Fish), Jjigae (Stew) and Jeongol (Chowder)
- Bukeokuk: Dried pollack soup, a famous hangover cure
- Kongnamulguk: Bean sprout soup
- Miyeokguk: Brown-seaweed soup
- Seolleongtang: A flavorful beef soup with slices of beef
- "Galbitang: Soup made by boiling beef ribs for a long time with salt or soy sauce added for flavor. Noodles
are added according to taste."
- Gamjatang: Stew with pork bones, potatoes and other vegetables
- Dakbokkeumtang: Chicken stew with vegetables and spicy sauce
- Kimchijjigae: Kimchi stew (usually with pork)
- Doenjangjjigae: Doenjang stew with tofu, zucchini, mushrooms and onions
- Budaejjigae: Stew with kimchi, ham and assorted vegetables
- Dongtaejjigae (Saengtaejjigae): Pollack stew with radish, tofu, and zucchini
- Nakjijeongol: Octopus hotpot with sliced small octopus, assorted vegetables, mushroom, and broth
- Dubujeongol: Tofu hotpot with tofu, onion, carrot, watercress, beef, and broth
Kimchi is one of the most important foods in Korea and is said to have the perfect balance of taste, nutrition, and storage quality. Kimchi is made by rubbing pickled vegetables such as radish, cabbage, or cucumber, (etc.) in salt and adding seasonings such as pepper, garlic, green onion, ginger, salted fish and other supplementary ingredients.
Kimchi must be stored at a consistent temperature and allowed to ferment before it can be served and eaten. Cabbages are not in season in winter, so from late November to early December Koreans make large batches of kimchi to be eaten during the winter. This kimchi-making period is called 'Kimjang'. Since people make large batches of Kimchi during Kimjang, close relatives gather and make Kimchi together.
4) Meat Dishes
- Bulgogi: Sliced beef seasoned and barbequed
- Galbi: Grilled pork or beef rib
- Samgyeopsal: Roasted pork that is wrapped in leafy vegetables and eaten
- Dakgalbi: Hot and spicy stir-fried chicken with vegetables
- Jeyukbokeum: Stir-fried pork with vegetables
5) Fish Dishes
- Saengseonhoe (sliced raw fish): Slices of raw fish are dipped in red chili-pepper paste with vinegar, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, horseradish, (etc.) and eaten
- Saengseon-gu-i (grilled fish): Salty or spicy grilled fish
- Saeseonjorim (hard-boiled fish): Fish and vegetables hard boiled in soy sauce
- Saeseonjorim (hard-boiled fish): Fish and vegetables hard boiled in soy sauce
- Ojinheobokeum (stir-fried squid): Hot and spicy squid and vegetable stir-fry
- Ramen: One of the most common snacks in Korea, ramen is made simply by putting noodles and water in a pot and bringing it all to a boil. Cup ramen comes in a paper container and is even less complicated. Ramen comes in a variety of flavors, both spicy and mild.
- Gimbap (rice rolls): Steamed rice, ham (pork), egg, carrot, and cucumber (etc.) are placed on dried laver and rolled up to eat. It is an easy and affordable food that is filling enough for a meal.
- Guksu (noodle): Noodle dishes such as noodle soup or noodles mixed with sauce
- Mandu (dumplings): Dumplings filled with vegetables, tofu and usually pork. Mulmandu is served in gravy and Tuigimmandu refers to fried dumplings.
- Ddeokboggi: Dish made of rice and flour cakes mixed with fish cakes and vegetables and cooked with seasoning
- Sundae (blood sausage): Sausage cooked with glass noodles and clotted beef blood
7) Seasonal Fruits
Korea is a country with distinctive 4 seasons—spring, summer, fall, and winter—that boasts fresh seasonal fruits each season. Thanks to the increased use of greenhouses, many of these delicious fruits are available throughout the year. Still, fruit is always the most delicious when it is in season. Many discount or department stores even carry exotic fruits, giving foreigners a little taste of home.
- Spring: cherries, strawberries, etc.
- Summer: oriental melons, peaches, watermelon, plums, tomatoes, etc.
- Autumn: persimmons, pears, apples, jujubes, chestnuts, grapes, etc.
- Winter: tangerines, oranges, etc.
- Maneul (Garlic): Garlic is very strong, but tastes sweeter and less pungent after it's been roasted. Chop it up fine to use it as a garnish, or use it whole as a spice.
- Ganjang (Soy sauce): Ganjang is a black and salty seasoning. It is made of fermented soybean paste, salt, and water. In Korea, ganjang is classified into two categories: traditional and brewed. Traditional soy sauce is used for seasoning soups and vegetables. Brewed soy sauce is used as a dipping sauce for raw fish and other dishes.
- Gochujang (Red pepper paste): Gochujang is a spicy hot paste made of red pepper powder, fermented soybean, and salt. This tasty sauce combines the delicate taste of fermented soybean with the hot taste of red pepper powder and the familiar taste of salt.
- Doenjang (Bean paste): Made of beans and salt, doenjang is a sauce native to Korea. It is usually used to make soup.
Titles of Family Members in Korea
Titles and other “designations” are important when addressing someone in Korean. A diversity of titles and designations are used to refer to the same person, depending on the situation and the speaker’s relationship to the person. Korean names and names in Chinese characters are often mixed and used as titles and designations. The use of an incorrect title or designation can be cause for offense.
Titles and Designations of Family Members
In Korea, family members address each other using specific titles that signify their relationship to one another. The family trees below detail some of the different names used to address the husband's and wife's family members. Honorific language is used for seniors, and regular language is used for younger family members. Names and titles may vary slightly from family to family, so it is always best to ask when in doubt.
Titles and Designations Used by the Wife in Addressing the Husband's Family
Titles and Designations Used by the Husband in Addressing the Wife's Family
Honorific and Casual Expressions
In Korea, there are slight differences in language style depending on the difference in age, relation, and social status of the speaker and the listener. These differences can be broadly described as two speaking styles: honorific and casual.
- The honorific level is used towards elders.
- Casual speech is used when speaking to a friend or someone younger than you.