Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Brand New Koreans!

Dear Korean,

What is the tradition for new babies? My son and daughter in law live in Seoul and are expecting their first child. When they married the bride’s mother bought items and set up their household for them. Does this carry over to babies as well or is there a different tradition. Do they have baby showers?

Vicki S.


A quick tangent first:  TK usually tries to put a relevant picture in the post right away. Then he went to Google and found that people keep Tumblr and Pinterest pages titled "Korean babies." Uh, no. Creepy people.

Koreans generally do not have baby showers. The hip Korean women have begun to take in the party, but it is not a general phenomenon yet. The same is true for "push presents"--although the idea is starting to trickle into Korea, it is not a widespread thing. (However, Korean euphemism for gifts for new mother is arguably more comical than the term "push present"--it's "diaper bag," as if the new mother is going to carry diapers in a shiny new Louis Vuitton bag.)

Koreans do have a strong tradition involving pre-natal care called 태교 [taegyo], i.e. education of an unborn child. Pregnant mothers are encouraged not only to eat healthy, but also look at beautiful things, listen to calming music, speak with the child, etc. But this stuff is not communal--it is between the parents and the child.

Probably the first communal baby tradition that kicks in is Geumjul [금줄]. Geumjul is a ritual twine rope that is hung on the front door when a child is born. Ordinarily, Korea's twine is created by twisting to the right, but the twine for Geumjul is twisted to the left. In the twine, white pieces of paper and charcoal is slotted in, as those items ward off evil spirit. If the baby is a boy, dried red pepper is also slotted in.

Geumjul hangs on the front door for three weeks, during which the visitors know not to enter the house. 

Geumjul
(source)
Today, few Koreans actually hang a Geumjul. But the mystical significance of the three week period after the baby is born (much of which does have scientific basis) tends to remain in Korea. In the first three weeks, no visitors are allowed other than the immediate family, nor would the new mother and child leave the house. The house is to be quiet--no hammering of a wall, for example. Family who just had a child would not attend a funeral. The new mother would wait four or five days to take a shower. And of course, the new mother would have tons and tons of seaweed soup. (Discussed in this post.) Today, many Korean new mothers check into a kind of postpartum spa-care, in which much of these things (and other essential lessons that new mothers should know) are taken care of for them.

After a child is born, there are two significant celebrations: 100 days, and the first birthday. Both days essentially celebrate the same thing: the child survived through those days--which, in the bad old days in Korea, was hardly a given. Previously, the two celebrations were equal in stature, but in modern Korea, the 100 days celebration is much smaller and usually among the immediate family only. But the first birthday, known as 돌 [dol], remains a significant event in which a huge party is thrown, with extended families and friends are invited. The friends and family usually pitch in to give gold rings to the birthday girl/boy.

Birthday boy going through doljabi [돌잡이]
(source)
The highlight of the first birthday is 돌잡이 [doljabi, literally "dol-grab"]. The child is set in front of a variety of objects, such as money, strings (representing long life,) bow and arrows, brush, and so on. The thing that s/he grabs is supposed to show the child's future.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

12 comments:

  1. What did TK grab on his doljabi?

    My parents claimed that I grabbed cold hard cash. So far it hasn't been an accurate predictor for me.

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  2. As an expecting father, I'd be interested to see the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of the three-week practices.

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    Replies
    1. Minimize visitors -- less chance of an infection or outside germs, etc.

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  3. What is your opinion about After-Childbirth Care Service (산후조리원)?

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    Replies
    1. Don't really have an opinion. Seems like a nice place though.

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  4. I have a question.

    The 3-weeks practice, is it 3 weeks since the baby is born (which was probably in the old times), or is it 3 weeks after the mother and child return home from hospital (if modified for nowadays' times)?

    I mean, it takes a longer time for new mothers to recover after their first birth, half of these 3 weeks would be spent at the hospital anyway, with the nurse comming in for help and assistance and visits from the father and maybe other family.....

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  5. It's almost scary how accurate 돌잡이 is sometimes. My Korean friends were discussing what they chose on their 100th days and it actually did translate (sometimes) to them and their families. What a coincidence that my friend who chose the knife is now attending culinary school and his grandfather who chose the thread lived to be 99 years old! It's pretty cool, and always a fun story.

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    Replies
    1. I'm pretty sure it's not done at the 100 day mark - it's a 1st birthday event. It can be quite a chore (sometimes) to get a one year old to grab something - a three month old would be a nightmare. When/if the baby doesn't want to follow along, hopefully you have a really good host that can keep the crowd entertained while trying to coax the baby into grabbing something. I've seen it go on for several minutes ... but I've never seen a 돌잡이 when they finally said the heck with it and gave up.

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  6. My son's 돌잔치 is coming up in just a few weeks...I'm curious to see what he'll choose. I think the hardest part will be getting him to wear his hanbok without destroying it. ;)

    These days, almost all Korean women of middle class and above stay in a post partum spa for at least two weeks. Visitors can only come at a certain time and view the baby from behind a glass window. The nurses care for the baby the entire time, except when the mother wants to learn how to change the baby's diaper or breast feed. This can set up problems with the breast feeding relationship, but there are many advantages. Before I had my baby, I thought the Koreans were lazy or somehow self-pitying for taking it so easy after birth - now I get it! In fact, I think Americans are almost heartless in the lack of care we give women after the baby is born. Interesting how experience changes perceptions.

    ReplyDelete

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