Saturday, February 11, 2012

Korean Birthdays: One-Hundred-Day celebrations and Hwan gap

In Korea it is believed that one of the main roles in life is to produce children for their ancestors. Couples will invest enormous amounts of time and money in fertility treatments if they are not conceiving within the desired or expected time frame. For these reasons, a child's birthday is considered very important in Korean traditions and customs. On the day of birth, the newborn is considered one year old and will turn two the following Lunar New Year. 

An important celebration regarding the child's birthday is known as the One-Hundred-Day celebration. Other than close maternal relatives, no one visits the new mother for at least 21 days after the baby's birth. The first 100 days of the child's life are considered a very critical and fragile time, so it is important to keep the baby safe and protected. After 100 days, the child can be taken outside and introduced to friends and neighbors. A 100-day party is thrown where close relatives and friends are invited to celebrate this joyous time. Traditionally, gifts are not given at the baby's birth, but if one of the parents or a close friend gives a silver chopstick or spoon set is seen as an appropriate gesture. 

With the child's first birthday comes much celebration and tradition. The child will be dressed in traditional Korean clothes and the boy wears the hood custom for unmarried men and the girl wears make-up. The most important aspect of the celebration is when the child is seated before a table and presented with various items such as rice, cake, money, books, pencils, a ruler, a needle and thread, and a bow and arrow. He or she is encouraged to choose one of these items and it is believed that the item the child chooses will determine his or her future

If the child selects:
-The bow and arrow: the child will become a warrior or have a military career
-The needle and thread: the child will live a long life 
-The book, pencil, or brush: the child will be a successful scholar 
-The ruler, needle, or scissors: the child will be talented with his/her hands
-The knife: the child will be a talented cook
-The money or rice: the child will be very wealthy
-The cake: the child will become a government official 

Another critical age for celebration is the turning of sixty. According to the Lunar calendar, there are 60 names for years and once you reach the age of 60 you return to your birth year. The 60th birthday, known as 'Hwan gap", is a time for grand celebration and festivities.

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