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From Birth to Tol Party

Today the traditional way of life as a whole is on the wane. The impact of Western culture and civilization is felt, particularly in large cities. However, some of the centuries-old values and customs are still preserved.

Today many Korean children are born in maternity clinics. However, in past times, babies were born in their mother's room. For a first child, an expectant mother would go to her own mother's house for the crucial event.

The meal for the mother after the birth of a child then and now consists of seaweed soup and rice. It is said that any food other than seaweed soup is harmful for the mother. Koreans feel this soup contains nutrients needed for the mother's recovery. New mothers consume copious amounts of the soup for three weeks. After childbirth, in order to pray for the blessings of the Birth God, a table with a bowl of rice and a bowl of clear water used to be placed in a corner of the delivery room - a custom from time immemorial, though waning in recent years.

Another dying custom is the taboo string or rope, called "inchul", hung across the gate-post for 21 days. In the case of a baby boy, pieces of charcoal and red peppers are fastened to the string, and in the case of a girl an inchul with pieces of charcoal and green pine branches is hung. No visitors, even relatives, were allowed to visit a house with an inchul for three weeks.

The birth of a child, especially the birth of the first son who will carry on the ancestral rites, is naturally an exciting event. For the naming of a child there are prescribed rules for time, rite, and procedure. After a lapse of some time a child is named. For a boy a temporary name, called a birth name, was to be replaced by a proper name upon attaining majority. A girl would have no childhood name.

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In earlier times, if a child lived for one hundred days it had survived the most dangerous period of its life, and a small feast was given in celebration. Family, relatives and neighbors still gather on this occasion to eat rice cakes and red bean cakes, which are also sent to all the villagers in hopes of long life for the child. Gifts are received in return, often in the form of a gold rings. This celebration is called "Paik-il", One Hundredth Day.

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The first birthday calls for an even larger banquet, called "Tol". The child is dressed as resplendently as possible, in a Yi dynasty costume, called a Hanbok, often to its dismay and discomfort, and is set before a Tol table, called "Tol-sang", with an assortment of rice cakes, fruit, and symbolic items such as a hank of yarn, money, stationery, calligraphy pen, a book and a bow. The adults enjoy predicting the child's fortune as the child is encouraged to choose one of the items. If it picks the yarn it is supposed to live long; if the child selects rice or money he may gain great wealth; cake or food means a destiny as a government official; a bow might indicate a great warrior; if the writing brush or book is chosen she is presumed to possess a scholarly talent.

When this routine is over, relatives and acquaintances are invited to enjoy the food and the congratulations and presents from the guests are given, while everyone enjoys the antics of the toddler. An additional food, called "Su-su kyung-dan" is prepared which is thought to keep away evil fortune. Su-su kyung-dan is prepared every birthday until the child reaches 10 years of age.

Upon departing, guests are customarily given packages of rice cakes or other foods as this sharing of food is thought to bring the child long life and happiness. This is the day the baby formally starts his life as a human being.

 

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For more information on Tol Parties click here