“Every new year, I visit my grandparents on both sides for saebae— the ritual bowing to elders. I lay two cushions for my grandmother and grandfather to sit on, before kneeling and bowing (usually alongside my brother) while uttering the words: ‘Have many blessings in the new year’. This is a full, deep bow— not the usual dip of the head and upper body in greeting, but one in which we kneel and briefly bring our heads down to the floor, along with our folded hands. We sit as our elders deliver a few words of advice for the new year, before they usually bring out a small envelope of saebae-don (money) as a gift. Parts of the tradition have already been lost in our household; for instance, saebae is supposed to be done in hanbok (traditional clothing)— yet I have not donned hanbok in close to a decade.”


This conversation was had with a friend and fellow classmate of mine, over text. This quote was lifted verbatim from part of our conversation.


This ritual of saebae, or bowing to elders, is part of Korean custom, and also appears similarly in other East Asian cultures (i.e. in Chinese culture). With the revelation that this participant doesn’t do saebae in the most traditional manner (no hanbok), this is a testament to how rituals and practices can adapt to one’s circumstance or situation—perhaps his lack of a hanbok meant he performed the ritual identically, only without that one aspect. AsI know he also grew up in the United States rather than Korea, this environment might also have an impact on the ritual. Furthermore, the offering of advice and gift of money cement the important relationship between elders and youth in Korean society, as elders offer both advice and support to younger family members.