In other countries, cash may be regarded as an impersonal gift and the giver may be considered as lacking sincerity in giving gifts. However, as you may already notice, Koreans in fact prefer gifts which are practical and so cash is an acceptable gift for a lot of occasions.
In South Korea, people usually give cash as gift for weddings and as bereavement pay for funerals. This is due to the tradition of mutual help among neighbours in the agricultural society. Weddings and funerals cost a lot of money and the cash gift or bereavement pay received can help cover some of the expenses.
For the baby’s first birthday celebration, instead of gold baby rings, Koreans may give cash as gift to the baby.
Koreans may also give cash as gift to their parents, parents-in-law or other elder family members on their birthdays or for important festivals like Seollal (설날)(Lunar New Year) and Chuseok (추석)(Korean Thanksgiving).
According to a survey conducted by the online marketplace Auction of 1,438 consumers, regarding gifts they wanted to receive for Chuseok, 50.8% of the respondents wanted cash or gift certificates, followed by meat (17.6%) and gift sets containing daily necessities like toothpaste and soap (11%). However, regarding gifts they planned to give, 32% planned to give gift sets containing tuna, olive oil and soap, followed by fruit (19.2%), and health food like red ginseng and vitamin pills (19%). It is interesting that there was a gap between what people wanted to receive and what they planned to give.
When giving cash as gift, the amount to be given depends on how close your relationship with the gift receiver is. The closer the relationship, the greater the amount. For example, in the Korea Herald article quoted in the “References” below, the web designer, who normally gives 50,000 won for most weddings, gave 300,000 won to her close friend for her wedding. Therefore, if you are not sure, it is prudent to ask your friends (except the one who’s going to receive your gift) what the “standard amount” is so that you won’t stand out as giving too little or too much. Moreover, the amount should not begin with the number “4” since “4” in Korean has the same pronunciation as “death” and so is considered an unlucky number.
Reminder: Due to the X’mas and New Year holidays, the next post will be published on 5 January 2015. Wishing you a merry X’mas and a wonderful New Year. See you in 2015! ♥
Lee Eun-joo, “Consumers prefer cash, gift vouchers for Chuseok“, Korea JoongAng Daily, 2014-08-12 – you can get more detail on the survey conducted by Auction
Kim Joo-hyun, “[Uniquely Korean] Cash the ultimate gift for Koreans“, The Korea Herald, 2014-04-30
이해영, 김은영, 신경선, 주은경, 이정란, 이현의, 《생활 속 한국 문화77》, 서울: 랭기지플러스<한글파크>, 2011, 108-109쪽
12 thoughts on “Korean gift-giving customs – Cash as gift”
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Thank you for this information! My mother just passed away and a woman I work with who is from S. Korea gave me a check for $300 in a sympathy card. Since I was not used to this type of gesture it made me a little uncomfortable.
I grew up only receiving money/cash in birthday cards from older family members (parents & grandparents) so my discomfort is probably related to it making me feel like a child again. Your blog helped me understand this custom much better so I can graciously accept her gift.
Her father passed away over a year ago and those of us at work didn’t even think to give her money. Is there anything we should do this far past the event?
Thanks for sharing. As her father has already passed away over 1 year ago, I don’t think it’s appropriate to do anything in relation to this now. That said, as the bereavement pay is a symbol of mutual help among people and a way of showing concern for the others, instead of giving any help in relation to her father’s death now, you may help her whenever she needs. She will surely appreciate it.
These days, not a fragrant candle when a housewarming gift.A goods needed in the house often.