Korean Birthday Customs

Books on shelf.jpg

In Korea several birthday customs are practiced. All such celebrations are festive, but the celebrations for someone's first birthday and 60th birthday have a prominent importance in the culture. Koreans also carry on the tradition of a 100 day celebration and all of these customs represent honoring Koreans at different times in their lives.

1 Birthday Celebrations

While there are different birthday celebrations in Korea that focus on specific ages, all birthdays are festive events. These celebrations are usually smaller in their scope and the amount of guests than the more significant birthdays, but they still possess a lot of food and much wine. It is customary for them to also feature Korean delicacies prepared specially for the event.

2 One Hundred Day Celebration

After a baby comes into the world, only close maternal family members are allowed to visit the birth mother for the first 21 days. This is because the child is considered too fragile for the first 100 days of its life to be able to withstand the attention of too many people. At 100 days the child can meet with other family as well as neighbors and friends. In their tradition, Koreans do not usually give gifts for the child for its birth, but they are allowed and are not an offense in any way. The culture holds a celebration at 100 days and people can bring gifts such as clothes. It is also acceptable if they are close friends with the baby’s mother or father to give a silver chopstick or spoon set.

3 First Birthday

On the child’s first birthday he or she is dressed in traditional Korean clothes. Boys are given hoods to wear and girls wear makeup. One of the main features of this birthday celebration is called the toljabee ceremony. At this ceremony the child is placed before a table filled with many foods such as rice, rice cakes and jujube as well as objects like a calligraphy set, money, a needle, scissors and a book. A bow and arrow could also be among the items. The child is encouraged to choose from among the items to pick a couple of them. In Korean tradition, the first or second item picked foretell the child’s future profession or some other aspect of his life. The bow and arrow will indicate life in the military, for example, and if the child selects money or rice he will be wealthy. Different regions can have different interpretations for the selections.

4 60th Birthday

Someone’s 60th birthday is a very important celebration and is done in a grand way. The significance of this particular birthday exists because it marks a completion of the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar contains 60 names for years, and once 60 years pass in someone’s life, the calendar goes back to their original birth year. This represents him starting the life cycle over again. Also, for a long time many did not live this long, but in modern times they do and some Koreans live on average into their 70s and early 80s. The Korean name for this celebration is Hwan Gap. A custom during this celebration is to have the parents seated at the main table. Then their sons and daughters approach them, one at a time in order of their age. They offer wine to the parents as they bow before them respectfully. Once the children complete this ritual, any younger brothers of the father perform it as well, followed by their sons and finally by the father’s friends. Family members will also dress up as small children to make the parents feel young again.

James Parducci has written professionally since 2001. He is a columnist for “Comic Box” and has been published in “San Diego Mission Valley News” and the “San Diego Comic-Con Souvenir Book.” Parducci also wrote the limited comic series “Nighthunter.” He is currently pursuing a B.A. at the University of Maryland University College where he majors in English and is on the dean's list.