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The way of forming a family varies depending on the time period and society. In Korea, family traditionally means the group who are related by blood, share rice from the same pot, live under the same roof, and share the household. An extended family in which a couple and their married children live together with their children was the typical and traditional Korean family. It was considered good for the whole family related by blood to live together, work together on a farm, and help each other in times of difficulty. Moreover, it was thought that the young could learn from the old. Nowadays, the nuclear family, which is composed of a couple and their unmarried children, is the predominant family form in Korea. Usually when the children get married, they form different households with their spouses. However some first-born sons live with their parents and their own family.
Jok-boJok-bo is a book of a family tree. In the book, the origin of the family name, history of the family, and achievements of ancestors are recorded. The book is revised and re-published every 30 years by representatives of the family. Those in the same generation are recorded on the same line and a brief history of one’s life and of his/her spouse is recorded. People can learn about their roots, family relations, and ancestor’s good will and deeds from the book.
An individual is born into a family, and begins his/her own family through marriage. The group of people related by birth or marriage is considered relatives. Koreans cherish family relationships. On traditional holidays they pay visits to their relatives. When there is a rather important decision to make in the family they talk to their family and relatives and ask for their help and advice. The family relationship can be divided into the father’s side of the family, the mother’s side of the family, and the spouse’s side of the family.
Baek-il (100th Day from Birth) and Dol (First Birthday)
Baek-il is the baby’s 100th day anniversary, and the family has a small celebration for the baby’s health and the mother’s recovery from delivery. On that day, people make Korean rice cakes called Baek-seol-gi or Su-su-pat-deok, and pass them around to neighbors, believing that sharing the cakes with 100 people will lead to the baby’s healthy growth. Those who receive the rice cake return the plates with threads, rice, or money on them. Threads represent a wish for a long healthy life, and rice and money mean a wish for wealth for the baby.
The meaning of deokBaek-seol-gi is for the purification of the baby’s body and spirit
Su-su-pat-deok or Su-su-gyeong-dan is for prevention of bad luck
Koreans have a bigger celebration on the first birthday of a baby, which they call “Dol.” A special table is prepared for the baby. Baek-seol-gi, Su-su-gyeong-dan, cotton thread, noodles, rice, dates, paper and pencil, and a book are placed on the table. The parents may place a book, paper, pencil, money, needle, or thread on the table and let the baby choose one among them. Watching the baby choose one, the family talk about the baby’s future and celebrate.
Traditionally, Koreans think of marriage as a union of yin and yang and therefore a way of following the rule of creating things in the universe. In the age of Joseon, women around 16 and men around 12 got married. Therefore, brides were usually older than grooms. In traditional Korean society, the parents make decisions about their children’s marriage. After making the decision, the groom’s parents send “Sa-ju” to the bride’s parents. Sa-ju
means the year, month, date, and hour of one’s birth. When the bride’s family gets the groom’s sa-ju, they compare that with the bride’s sa-ju to predict their future marriage life and then decide the wedding date. The groom’s family sends presents to the bride’s family 2 or 3 days before the wedding. They call the ritual as sending a “Ham,” meaning a box, as they send the presents in the box. The presents are usually a gold ring and fabric for the bride. The wedding is held in the bride’s house, and the bride and groom spend the first night in the bride’s house. After a 2 or 3 day stay in the bride’s house, the groom brings the bride to his house. Upon arriving in the groom’s house, the bride pays respect to the groom’s family formally. This is called Pe-baek. Now, weddings are held in wedding halls or churches, but people still follow the ritual of “Ham” and “Pe-baek.”
The meaning of noodles at weddingsKoreans have a custom of eating noodles at weddings. It may be because it is easy to prepare noodles for a large number of guests, but at the same time, the noodles represent a wish for a long and happy marriage of the couple.
Hoe-gab or Hwan-gab (60th Birthday)
The 60th birthday of a person is called Hoe-gab or Hwan-gab. Different from other birthdays, on Hoe-gab, people have a big celebration. A big table is prepared for the celebrated person and the celebrated and his/her spouse sit at the table with rice cakes, fruits and snacks piled up high. The higher the piles of food are, the deeper the children’s filial love is considered. The children bow to their parents at the table in the order of birth and offer a drink. Younger relatives also bow and offer a drink. Friends and relatives celebrate the birthday by offering drinks and having a good time. Now, as life expectancy has become longer, people have a big celebration on the 70th birthday rather than on the 60th.
Je-sa (Memorial Service)
There are a couple of kinds of Je-sa, that is, memorial services. One of them is Cha-re, which is held on the mornings of traditional holidays such as Seol, New Year’s Day, or Chu-seok. Another kind is Gi-je, a memorial service given on the day of the person’s death. Usually Je-sa is understood as Gi-je, the memorial service given on the day of the person’s death. Je-sa is performed based on the rules and procedures of Confucianism, and there are some variations depending on the family or region. The rules and procedures are complicated and strict. On the day of Je-sa, descendants gather together and talk about the one who passed away and his/her legacy. Fruits such as chestnuts, dates, dried persimmons, pears, Korean traditional snacks, drinks, soup, and rice are placed on the Je-sa table.