Birthdays in Korea

Hi everyone!  How are you doing?  Is school going well?

This Tuesday is my birthday, and I will be 24!.  This is my first time celebrating my birthday away from my family and friends back home, so I’m a little sad, but I’m excited to experience it in Korea!   I wasn’t quite sure how birthdays are celebrated here, so I did some research so we could find out together!

In western culture, the “big” birthdays are typically thought of at the 1st, 16th, 18th, 21st, and 40th birthdays, at least in my mind.  In Korea however, the 100th day, 1st, and 70th birthdays grant the biggest celebration.

The 100th day, or baek-il, celebration is a very big occasion, since, in the olden days, many children died within their first 100 days.  Even though infant death rates have dropped since then, it is still a very special occasion.  It is believed that if the child’s family shares rice cakes with 100 people, the child will live a long life.  The dishes the rice cakes are sent in are then sent back to the family containing long lengths of thread to signify a long life, and/or rice and money, which signifies future wealth.  The 100 day celebration has moved over to other parts of Korean culture as well, with couples celebrating their 100th day as a couple instead of the 1 month anniversary.

The most well-known (and in my opinion, the most adorable!) birthday celebrations is called dol, or the first birthday celebration.  The baby gets dressed in a dol-bok, similar to the hanbok I wrote about last week, based on the sex of the child.  A huge table is filled with many different kinds of rice cakes, fruits, and rice.  The table is also set with a few different items to find out what kind of future the child will have.  The baby is places in front of the items and whichever item he or she picks up first supposedly tells their future!  Traditionally, there is a spool of thread, a brush,  calligraphy set, pencil, a book, money, and a bow and arrow for the child to choose from.  However, these days, parents often set items pertaining to what they want their child to do for a job, such as a microphone, baseball, stethoscope, etc.  Parents often try to guide their children to what they want them to be, and family members make bets on what the children will choose!  Here is a video of the festivities:

The 70th birthday is called Hwangap.  Originally, this was celebrated on your 60th birthday, since at that point, you complete the sexagenarian cycle of the Korean zodiac, and since, aging, life was hard in the olden days, and people rarely lived to see their 60th birthday.  Nowadays, since people are living a lot longer, this is celebrated on the person’s 70th birthday.  The children of the person prepare a huge feast, and they bow (as seen in last weeks post) and offer wine to their parents.  To keep the party young and exciting, everyone dresses in children’s clothing and sing children’s songs and play games they played as kids.

For someone celebrating a birthday that isn’t one of these, it’s still pretty exciting, but quite similar to western culture.  Today, since she won’t be teaching our class tomorrow, my Korean teacher prepared a cake made out of a popular Korean snack called Oh Yes-eu!  My classmates sung the Korean version of happy birthday to me as well, and it was a lot of fun!  I was very surprised!

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I’m so thankful for them making me feel loved at a time when I was missing my family the most.  I have met a lot of great people here, and am so excited to see where the next year takes me!

When is your birthday?  What do you usually do for your birthday?  What birthdays are the biggest for you?  Which birthday are you looking forward to in the future?

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