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Why all Koreans have their birthdays on New Year's Day: the essence of the important tradition

Yulia PoteriankoNews
While the whole world celebrates the New Year, Koreans celebrate a common birthday

While the rest of the world waits for January 1 to celebrate the New Year, in South Korea, this date is also the birthday of all South Koreans. The concept of age being counted from the beginning of the calendar year, not from the date of birth, is ingrained in Korean language and culture.

This is a unique tradition that is found nowhere else in the world. It dates back to ancient times and used to be quite common in Asia. 90DayKorean explains how the "Korean age" is calculated and why.

How does the Korean age calculation system work?

For convenience, we will introduce two concepts: Korean age and international age. The international age is the one that is calculated from the date of actual birth and is accepted all over the world. We will deal with Korean age separately.

According to local tradition, it turns out that all Korean people are at least one year older than their international age. This is because the Koreans usually count the time spent in the womb as their age. Therefore, in this country, it is believed that at the time of birth, a person is already one year old. Yes, this is a simplification because pregnancy does not last a full year but 9 months. But without it, the already complicated calculations would be even more difficult.

And that's not all the additional nuances. All residents of the country traditionally change their age on January 1. According to the parallel system, it is on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Although Koreans celebrate their birthdays on the actual date, this does not affect the Korean age in any way. Traditionally, the age change occurs for everyone at the same time.

For example, let's imagine a person born on September 21, 1997. As of January 1, 2023, he or she will be 25 years old according to international standards.

At the same time, in terms of Korean age, this person will turn 27 on the same day. Why? Because at the time of their birth on September 21, 1997, according to local tradition, they were already 1 year old. Therefore, on September 21, 2022, this person celebrated his 26th birthday, a year older than their actual age. And on New Year's Day, their age will increase by another year. So the number 27 will be 27, two years older than the actual age.

Why is this important?

Age plays a big role in the world only when you want to buy cigarettes and alcohol in a store. In Korea, however, it is customary to use different words and different language for people of different ages. Even your younger and older friends are called by different names. The reason for this is the entrenched system of social hierarchy that exists in the country.

That is why Koreans pay great attention to this nuance. And that is why age and the system of its calculation are very important to them.

Abandoning the tradition

However, this custom is not going to last long. The confusion over the two age calculation systems in South Korea often leads to social and even legal disputes. Therefore, the parliament decided to completely switch all official documentation to the international system. It will come into effect in June 2023.

International rules for calculating age have been in place in the country since 1960. Back then, they were introduced for medical and legal purposes. And confusion ensued. Now, the South Korean government will actively promote the international age calculation system, and the entire population of the country will simultaneously become younger. Some by a year, and some by two.

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