Keeping My Korean Traditions Alive

I am very grateful to my parents and grandparents for keeping our Korean heritage alive while living in America. I didn’t necessarily understand or appreciate the traditions as a young child. But this time of year always brings me back to my childhood days.

Every holiday or Korean celebration came with a table full of traditional dishes like Rice Cake  Soup (Duk Guk) or Beef Seaweed Soup (Miyeok Guk) and A LOT of side dishes (Banchan). I remember all those good times like it was yesterday.

Passing down my traditions is so important to me. And with my parents living so far away from us, I try to remind my kids about our Korean heritage. I was looking through some old photos and I wanted to share a little bit more about my background.

K in her Korean Hanbok for her 1st birthday
K in her Korean Hanbok for her 1st birthday
M in the same Hanbok at 1
M in the same Hanbok at 1

The first year of a child’s life is a big celebratory year for Koreans. We celebrate 100 days (Baek-Il – baby wears white) and the 1st birthday (Dol – baby wears Hanbok). Big parties are in order. We have 100 assorted rice cakes, pastries, and fruits to share with 100 people which symbolizes long life. And at the one year mark, the birthday child plays a fun “choose your own path” game. It involves a variety of random household items. And each item  represents a special meaning. Here are just a few popular ones:

  • money = wealth
  • string or yarn = longevity
  • food = health
  • book or pencil = academics

These items are placed in front of the birthday child and then s/he will choose one. K chose a dollar bill and M chose a piece of bread. Fun times!

With our world now being so focused on minimizing our waste and being green, I thought that I would mention one more tradition which can actually save our planet. We call it “bogaji” or scarf wrapping. This scarf wrapping method dates back to the 14th century and it was a way to wrap/transport items before the widespread use of paper and plastic. I remember my mother and grandmother using this method growing up as a child. Each gift was beautifully wrapped with a scarf (see photo below). Any medium to large square size scarf will work well.

Photo Credit Via Heyeonni.com
Photo Credit Via Heyeonni.com

So if you have any old scarves laying around, consider using them for your Christmas and New Year’s gifts. Your recipients will love them and reuse them. 😄

Thankfully, my parents will be visiting for the Christmas holiday from the west coast. It’s been over one year since we saw each other. This will be a great time for all of us… especially for the kids. My husband’s parents have passed so this is a big deal to me. Being married to an Italian who is also close to his roots brings more tradition as well. I never met my mother-in-law but I have heard that she was very kind, generous, and a great cook. She was the maternal hierarch who prepared big Italian dinners for all the relatives on Sundays and I wished that I had experienced those moments. I did manage to save one of her famous cookie recipes. She called them her “magic cookies.” I will post about it in the near future. I promise…

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A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. - Maya Angelou

7 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I really enjoyed this as well. The art of wrapping the gifts is impressive and they look so beautiful. I love the games you play on the babies 1st birthday! I commend you for keeping your heritage alive, it is so important. Great Post!!!

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