I have a Korean co-worker who has a birthday coming up and when I asked her if she was celebrating with anyone, she said "no". What's going on here? Do Koreans celebrate birthdays?
Odd really because Koreans, like everyone, love to celebrate their own birthday. Who wouldn't like an entire day where you can guilt other people into celebrating YOU? I just had my birthday and even though I didn't guilt people into anything, I had fun being special for the day. In this specific case, I going to have to conclude that your co-worker was just not that into you and probably didn't want to share her day with you. Sorry.
There are a lot of holidays in Korea. Some are national and others are family-oriented. This past Chuseok alone saw a 25 million people traveling around the peninsula which is a huge number and obviously a very celebrated holiday, but is it the biggest or most important? This got me thinking a bit, so I asked about 50 of my students what they thought with a quick survey.
First question: For you personally, what is the most important holiday in Korea?
Second question: For the Korean nation as a whole, what is the most important holiday?
Individual Koreans thought that Christmas, their own birthday and Lunar New Year (설날) were the most important, while as a nation, Lunar New Year, Harvest Festival and Solar New Year were the most important. You can look at the breakdown yourself.
Clearly, birthdays are important to Korean people. I should also note that 환갑, or the celebration that commemorates a person hitting the age of 60 (and now 70) received a lot of attention in the second question, but that's likely because it's viewed as more of a milestone than an individual celebration.
There's another story here though, but before I address it, I'll need to create a survey for you guys. Stay tuned on that front.