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My family has begun taking in Korean exchange students. This is Tom. His real name is Oh Sang Jun. Tom comes from Seoul, Korea. Tom will be here until the end of May, at which time he will go home to Kore for the summer. He will be back in September for another School years and will stay for another year. Hopefully Tom will stay with my Mum again, but Tom’s parents may request he stay with another family to broaden his learning and experience. When Tom “grows up” he wants to teach English in Korea. Tom knows quite a bit about his homelife and has shared many things with us. He’s quite the kid.

Tom is actually 12. Korean people have a different birthday system. Tol (birthday) has two meanings in Korean. The most common meaning is a child’s first birthday. It can also be used as a generic description for birthdays: Chut-tol (first birthday), Du-tol (second birthday), Seo-tol (third birthday), etc.

In the past, due to a lack of medical information, Korea’s seasonal temperature differences and many childhood related diseases, the death rate for children was extremely high. Many children died before their first birthday.

When the woman was expecting a baby, the best room was arranged for the delivery of a child. A sacred straw rope was hung over the gateposts when the child was born. If the child was a boy, some pieces of charcoal and red peppers were fastened to the straw rope. If a girl baby was born, pieces of charcoal and green pines were fastened to it instead. This taboo rope symbolized protection against evils and illness, and visitors were not permitted to enter houses for at least 21 days.

Saei-rye (21-day Celebration)
This event involved little ceremony. The baby and mother were still recovering from birth, so people were not allowed to see them. However, close family members met and prayed for the healthy recovery of the baby’s mother on this day.

On the one hundredth day after the birth of child, the baby is congratulated on having survived the dangers of illness and the mother on having resorted her health.

Baek-il (100-day Celebration)
Similar to the Tol, the Baek-il event has 2 aspects. First, family members give thanks to Samsin (the three gods who take care of the baby’s life while growing up). Second, they pray for jae-ak (wealth), longevity, and cho-bok (original luck). The food differed from the extensive table prepared for the Tol, mostly comprising 4 types of Korean foods: baekseogi (for longevity, representing cleanliness and freshness), susupo-ttteok (to prohibit bad things), injeolmi (for patience), and songpyeon (for thought). When they are “3 months old” they have their second birthday. Interesting. It was said that the baby would grow up healthy if pieces of rice cake and millet cake were distributed to one hundred neighbors.

The one year anniversary of a birth is called �Tol�. In the old days when medical service was poor and hardly available, infant mortality was so high that the first birthday party was held to congratulate the baby on its good health. On the first birthday party, a special table displaying many things was offered to the one-year old baby. There was rice cake, many kinds of fruit, a book, a pencil, money, needle and a hank of yarn set on a table in front of a baby. The parents believed if the baby chose a pen or book, he would be a good leader or politician or professor or something. If he chose money, he would get rich. If he choose a hank of yarn set, it meant a long life.


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