Korean Birthday Traditions Passed Down Over Time

Published January 25, 2021
Korean birthday traditions

Not every country celebrates birthdays the same, and this is true for Korea. Explore unique Korean birthday traditions like the doljabi and miyeok guk. Additionally, find out why Koreans are always a year older than Americans.

Korean Birthday Celebrations for New Year

One of the most important birthday celebrations for Korean culture is the New Year. Why? Because this is everyone's birthday and on that day, everyone is considered a year older. Even a child born the day before the New Year is considered to be a year older than their peers. The New Year's birthday for all is celebrated with parties, traditional clothing (hanboks), and traditional food. Typically, everyone eats Tteokguk (rice cake soup) on the New Year to signify being a year older.

Korean Birthday Celebrations for Actual Birthday

Additionally, since age is important in Korean culture, they also celebrate the actual day of their birth similar to western cultures. Korean families might have a small intimate party with a family or a few friends for a child's actual birthday. Older individuals might go out with friends for drinks, typically soju (a Korean liquor), and cake. Additionally, Koreans sing the Happy Birthday song.

Korean Birthday Traditions Food

Koreans party on the actual day of their birthday with a birthday cake, a small celebration, and miyeok guk (Korean seaweed soup). The eating of seaweed soup has a long history. Korean mothers used to eat it when pregnant because of the vitamins; therefore, eating seaweed soup works to represent a mother's love.

Special Korean Birthday Celebrations

Just like some western cultures have special birthday celebrations like the first birthday or 21st birthday for Americans, big birthdays for Korean culture are the 100-day birthday, 1st birthday, 60th, 70th, and 80th birthdays. These birthdays have special celebrations.

Korean Age System

The Korean age system is a bit different from the international age system. Why? That is because Korean's count that year in the womb. Therefore, a child born on December 31st is considered to be 2 years old on January 1st even though are actually 1 day old.

Baek-il (100-Day) Korean Birthday Celebration

The Baek-il birthday celebration is held 100-days after the birth of the child. In Korean culture, 100 holds important significance. A child making it to 100-days is celebrated with a small party, rice cakes, and miyeok-guk. Additionally, it is thought if you share 100 rice cakes, then your baby with have a long life, so many parents share these cakes with everyone.

Korean 100 day birthday celebration

Doljanchi (1st) Korean Birthday Celebration

The doljanchi is the child's actual first birthday, but they are considered to be 2 in Korea. This celebration also happens on their day of birth rather than the New Year. For this celebration, the child wears a hanbok (a traditional garment) and a special hat. In addition to food like plain rice, seaweed soup, and rice cakes, babies also take part in the doljabi. This is where items are placed on a table in front of the child. The object the child picks is supposed to foretell their future. For example, if a baby picks money, they will be wealthy in the future.

Korean First Birthday Celebration

Hwangap (60th) Korean Birthday Celebration

Prior to the age of modern medicine, living to the age of 60 (61 Korean age) was considered to be a huge milestone. While many Koreans live beyond their 60s, this is still a birthday worth celebrating. For the hwangap, the birthday girl or boy typically celebrates with family or takes a trip. Additionally, like the doljanchi, this celebration takes place on the person's actual day of birth.

Chilson (70th) and Palsun (80th) Korean Birthday Celebration

While 60 used to be the year of celebration, it has been taken over by the chilson (70th) and palsun (80th) birthday celebrations. On these key birthdays, Koreans have large, lavish birthday celebrations at banquet halls. As with other key celebrations, typically a hanbok is worn. Ceremonial foods like fruits, rice cakes, chicken, beef, and fish along with a birthday cake are served. Many gift wine to the birthday celebrator.

Korean Birthday Traditions

Unlike American culture, everyone in Korea is considered a year older on the first of the year, but that doesn't mean they don't celebrate their date of birth. Rather, it's not as celebrated as the New Year as long as it's not the doljachi or chilson.

Korean Birthday Traditions Passed Down Over Time