Author Archive
Childhood
Folk Beliefs

Korean Tooth Tradition

Tradition as told by informant: I know that when the kids started losing teeth Luis (husband) would always have us throw it onto the roof. I know that’s a Korean thing, but I don’t know exactly the origin of it, but I do know there’s kids books that explain it.

Informant is a descendant of Irish immigrants who married a Korean man. She would often read about Korean folktales to her children and one of the stories included the tooth tradition. Apparently you have to sing a song or shout a request for the lost tooth to be replace by a mouse tooth. Mice are known to grow teeth for their entire lives so by singing or shouting this request it is supposed to bring the child good luck in growing straight teeth.

general

The Menehune

Informant migrated to Hawaii from Korea some forty years ago. She has grown up there as a child so she is familiar with certain Hawaiian traditions, superstitions, and customs.

Myth as told by informant:

Here is what I remember about the Menehune.

I first heard of Menehune when I was in middle school while learning about Hawaiian history. I’m not sure exactly who I heard it from but most likely my social studies teacher at the time.

I was told that Menehune are mysterious creatures short in stature of 2 feet at the most. They are believed to be shy and living in the forest. They only come out at night and do their work not to be seen by others. They are strong builders and skilled engineers so that they would construct buildings and roads overnight. They are also believed to be mischievous. So when some incredulous happenings occur, people would say that it’s the workings of Menehune.

I’ve also heard of the Night Watchers. They march at night, hence the name Night Marchers. They are not to be looked at in the face when and if you come across them. They also have their own pathways that people can’t block, cross or build over.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Life cycle
Protection
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Bowing to your elders on new years

Informant is a descendant of Korean immigrants who moved to the states in the early 80s and now resides in Utah.

Tradition as told by informant: When we were young, we bowed to a picture of (I think it was grandpa) at new years. Now we just bow to our elders.

Every new years in Korean culture we bow to our elders in a traditional way, and in return they give us cash as a form of good luck for the new year. This is also coupled with a word of advice and/or some kind of proverb with a moral lesson.

I usually look forward to this day for the money :).

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection
Signs

throwing chestnuts and walnuts at weddings

Informant is a descendant of Korean immigrants who moved to the states in the early 80s and now resides in Utah.

Tradition as told by informant: (earlier we were discussing our cousin getting married) Talking about marriage, there is a thing where they throw chestnuts and walnuts to signify healthy babies.

Upon further investigation I found out that it was dates and chestnuts instead of walnuts. A few days after the getting married, the couple visit the groom’s family for another wedding ceremony. Here the bride offers dates and chestnuts to the groom’s parents, while sitting at a low table filled with other symbolic offerings. As a final sendoff they throw the dates and chestnuts at the bride, who tries to catch them in her large wedding dress.

I know that dates are a very prominent fruit in Korea so it makes sense that it would have this kind of symbolic meaning throughout marriage.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Don’t shake your legs or else you’ll lose your wealth

Informant is a descendant of Korean immigrants who moved to the states in the early 80s and now resides in Utah.

Superstition as told by informant: my mom said not to shake your legs or you’ll lose money. I’m pretty sure she told me not to shake my legs because it was considered impolite in public, but this was just her way of getting me to stop shaking my legs.

In Korea your legs symbolize wealth and prosperity so shaking them is a sign of shaking your wealth off.

I did some research and could not find anymore on why legs are associated with wealth, but it seems like a tactic used by parents to prevent their children from creating the annoying habit.

Folk Beliefs
Humor
Signs

Marrying a white person

Superstition as told by informant: So apparently, in Korean culture there is a common motif on white witches aka gisheens. They are pretty much like the Korean version of the Bloody Mary. While I was dating Leslie (who is white) the family was giving me a lot of crap because I wasn’t marrying a Korean woman. And one of the things my aunt told me as a joke was that marrying a white woman is considered bad luck and is the same as marrying a gisheen. I know it sounds racist, but you know how Koreans are.

I’ve definitely heard this from my friends who’s parents have told them the same thing. But I do believe the generation gap between the informant is fairly vast. So now days Korean parents are more comfortable with us marrying someone outside our ethnicity, but I do believe for my informant’s generation they were a lot more serious about this, which resulted in jokes like this one.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Brave Hong Kil-Dong

Afraid of the loss of children as they are only half Korean, the informant’s husband reads Korean folk tales to his children because they contain life lessons on greed and humbleness.

Folk tale as told by informant: One of the books that I would read to our youngest was a folk tale about a Korean Robin Hood. As a commoner he led a band of men in stopping corrupt wealth people from pressing arbitrary charges on the poor. If I remember correctly, I believe one of the stories included a wealthy man charging a man for a tree’s shade. But towards the end of the story he learns that the shade is more valuable than the greedy man has imagined.

As a child I growing up under a Korean household I distinctly remember reading this story. I have tons of these kinds of tales in my room and I remember going over to my friend’s houses and seeing the same stories in their bookshelves. So I believe tales like this one were fairly common in Korean-American households.

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Foodways
Holidays
Life cycle
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eating dduk mandu gook (rice cake dumpling soup) on New Years Day

Informant is a descendant of Irish immigrants who married a Korean man so is familiar with certain Korean traditions.

Tradition as told by informant: Every new years Luis (husband) has the family eat the dumpling soup so I had to go online and look up how to make it.

Every new years Koreans eat this soup because they believe that Koreans age one year every new year. You don’t gain a year until you eat this soup so it is important to them that they have it. It also symbolizes good health and fortune for the new year.

The white, clear broth of the soup represents a clean fresh start to the new year and the disc shaped rice cakes symbolize coins for wealth and good fortune.

for more on this tradition see: http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/ddukguk

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Never write someones first and last name in red

Superstition as told by informant: My best friend’s mom growing up said to never write someones first and last name in red because that meant you were writing their name in blood and you wanted harm to come to them. She said it was a Korean superstition, I believed her since she was Korean. I don’t know if that was just her making up stuff up or if that really is true, but I’ve never written anybody’s name in red ink since.

In many Asian countries the color red is usually associated with death in various ways. One of them is because simply red is the color of blood. Another association is when someone passes away their name is written in red on the funeral registry and on the funeral banners. It’s believed that this practice wards off evil spirits.

Growing up in a Korean household I have never heard of this because my parents are strict Christians so they were never really into superstitions like this so it is interesting to hear other people’s experience with this growing up.

For more on this superstition see http://www.gwangjunewsgic.com/online/behind-the-myth-the-red-pen/

Folk Beliefs
Material
Protection
Signs

Giving shoes as gifts

Informant is a second generation Korean. She currently lives in Los Angeles and is in her early 30s.

Superstition as told by informant: There was one my mom told me when I was little about giving shoes as gifts and why it’s bad luck. You can’t give shoes to your girlfriend/boyfriend because if you do Koreans believe they will break up with you and run away.

After doing some more research I actually found out that some people will actually pay a small amount of money to not be given shoes even if they are due gifts, which I thought was hilarious because of Korea’s prominent fashion industry.

But now that I think of it I rarely hear about giving shoes as gifts even here in California. Maybe its because you might get the wrong size for the person and might burden them.

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