The Korea Herald


[Korea Quiz] Some 'bread' isn't as tasty as it sounds

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 1, 2023 - 11:40

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Birthdays are a joyous occasion, but some Koreans have an unusual way of celebrating them with saengil-bbang.

Saengil-bbang is a combination of the word meaning birthday in Korean -- "saengil" -- and the word “bbang,” which usually means bread or cake. "Bbang" is used here as a suffix to indicate nasty violent celebrations.

It refers to the practice in which close friends hit each other on their birthdays. Usually considered a fun prank between close friends, it varies from a couple of light smacks to hitting them once for every year they have lived. Throwing cake on one's face is another popular variation.

The origin of saengil-bbang and how it got its name is unclear. There are also traditions in other countries that involve beating people on their birthdays.

In addition to saengil-bbang, there are also "jeonyeok-bbang" to celebrate being discharged from the military, and "joleop-bbang," a graduation celebration.

While the tradition is supposed to be an innocent prank, things can get dark when abused by bullies. In 2009, a 15-year-old boy was hospitalized after 19 of his schoolmates beat him for hours, under the pretext of celebrating his birthday.