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Why is 60 a big birthday in Korea?

The Significance of Turning 60 in Korean Culture


Korean culture is steeped in tradition, with many customs and beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation. One such tradition is the celebration of a person’s 60th birthday, which is considered a major milestone in Korean culture. In this article, we will explore the reasons why this birthday is so significant and the various customs and rituals associated with it.

Historical Background

The significance of turning 60 in Korean culture can be traced back to ancient Confucian beliefs. According to Confucianism, a person’s life is divided into cycles of 12 years, with each cycle representing a different stage of life. The age of 60 marks the completion of five such cycles, which is why it is considered a momentous occasion.

Symbolism of Sixty

In Korean culture, the number 60 is believed to represent a full circle or completion. It is seen as a time for reflection on one’s life and accomplishments, as well as a time to prepare for the next stage of life. Many Koreans view turning 60 as a time to pass on their wisdom and knowledge to younger generations.

Celebrations and Customs

To celebrate a person’s 60th birthday, Koreans often hold a traditional ceremony called hwangap. This involves preparing a feast for family and friends and offering symbolic gifts such as red bean cakes and money envelopes. The birthday person wears traditional clothing called hanbok and sits at the head of the table while guests pay their respects.

Family Importance

Family plays an important role in Korean culture, and this is especially true when it comes to celebrating milestones such as a 60th birthday. It is common for adult children to organize the hwangap ceremony and invite family members from near and far to join in the celebration. This is seen as a way of honoring the birthday person and showing gratitude for their contributions to the family.

Respect for Elders

Respect for elders is a cornerstone of Korean culture, and this is particularly evident in the way that 60th birthdays are celebrated. The birthday person is honored and respected for their wisdom, experience, and contributions to society. This is also a time for younger generations to show their appreciation for the sacrifices made by their elders.

Traditional Food

Food is an important part of any Korean celebration, and a 60th birthday is no exception. Traditional Korean dishes such as bulgogi (marinated beef), japchae (stir-fried noodles), and galbi (grilled ribs) are often served at hwangap ceremonies. These dishes are symbolic of prosperity, longevity, and good health.

Generational Bonding

A 60th birthday celebration is not just about honoring the birthday person; it is also an opportunity for different generations to come together and bond. Hwangap ceremonies often involve games, singing, and dancing, which create a festive atmosphere and help to strengthen family ties.

Philosophical Reflection

Philosophy plays an important role in Korean culture, and this is evident in the significance attached to turning 60. It is seen as a time to reflect on life’s deeper questions and to seek greater understanding of one’s place in the world. Many Koreans use this occasion as an opportunity for philosophical reflection and introspection.

Continuation of Legacy

In Korean culture, passing on one’s legacy to future generations is highly valued. Turning 60 is seen as a time to reflect on one’s accomplishments and contributions to society, and to prepare for the next stage of life. This involves passing on one’s knowledge and experience to younger generations, so that they can continue the legacy.


In conclusion, turning 60 is a significant milestone in Korean culture, representing a completion of one’s life cycle and a time for reflection and preparation for the next stage of life. The hwangap ceremony is an important tradition that honors the birthday person and strengthens family bonds. It is a time for celebration, gratitude, and reflection on the legacy that has been passed down from previous generations.

Why is 60th birthday special in Korea?

Although it is the 60th birthday in terms of Western age, according to Korean age, the person would be celebrating their 61st. This is because reaching the age of 60 signifies completing one major cycle in life and beginning a new one, which follows the 60-year calendar cycle of the lunar calendar.

What is 60th birthday in Korean language?

Hwangap, a traditional Korean celebration, marks one’s 60th birthday and symbolizes a return to the year of their birth after completing five 12-year lunar cycles.

What is the tradition for 60th birthday?

In Western culture, 60th birthday celebrations often involve playful “Over the Hill” themes where age-related jokes are common and nostalgic gifts may be exchanged. Attendees may choose to bring items from the guest of honor’s past, such as old photos or memorabilia from their childhood.

What is the birthday rule in Korea?

In Korea, when you are born, you are considered to be one year old already, including the time you spent in the womb, which is counted as the first year of your life, even though it is only nine months. As a result, your Korean age is always one year higher than your age in the Western or international context.

Why is age gap important in Korea?

As previously mentioned, age is highly significant in South Korean culture, which employs a system of honorifics based on Confucian principles of respecting elders. As a result, younger individuals are expected to adhere to certain formalities and behaviours when interacting with their elders.

Is 60th birthday called Golden?

The golden jubilee represents a 50th anniversary, while the diamond jubilee is for a 60th or 75th anniversary. The platinum jubilee is celebrated for a 70th anniversary.

Modern Celebrations

While traditional hwangap ceremonies are still held in Korea, modern celebrations have also emerged. Some Koreans choose to celebrate their 60th birthday by taking a trip or planning a special event with family and friends. Others may choose to commemorate the occasion with a charitable donation or by engaging in personal reflection.

Challenges for the Elderly

Despite the reverence and respect given to elders in Korean culture, many elderly Koreans face challenges such as social isolation, poverty, and health issues. These challenges are especially prevalent for those who live alone or lack support from family members. As Korean society continues to age, addressing these challenges will become increasingly important.

Implications for Western Culture

While turning 60 is not as widely celebrated in Western culture as it is in Korea, there are still lessons that can be learned from this tradition. Emphasizing respect for elders, family bonds, and philosophical reflection can help to promote greater well-being and social cohesion. By valuing the contributions of older generations and passing on knowledge to younger ones, we can create a more harmonious and connected society.

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