Birthday Miyeok-Guk Soup


Eating miyeok-guk (seaweed soup) every birthday morning to honor your mother.


After giving birth, Korean women traditionally eat a lot of seaweed soup because of its nutritional value. Based off of that, people eat this soup to honor their mothers for giving birth. JK mentioned that she does this every year and that this is a tradition that she shares with the wider Korean community: “It does feel like a way to not only honor my mother, but also honor my Korean culture because it’s not just something my family does.” Even though it was her first year in college, she was still able to have some miyeok-guk this year, since her Spring Break aligned with her birthday! This soup reminds JK of home and family–it’s a food of comfort alongside healing.


It is intriguing to see the various ways in which different cultures celebrate birthdays. In America, birthdays are very centered around the child: we are celebrating them turning a year older and reflecting on their past accomplishments as promises for a bright, successful future. Illustrative of our forward-driven society, we underscore this emergence into a new phase of life, which requires that we place full attention and focus on the person who’s aging. However, in past-oriented cultures, birthdays acknowledge the mother as the sole reason for the existence of a birthday. By drinking miyeok-guk, children are cherishing their mothers and recognizing the sacrifice and dedication that goes into motherhood. Thus, people are appreciating the past–the period of time before they were born, when their mother was carrying them.

After some research, I found that this tradition was most likely inspired by people noticing whales eating seaweed after giving birth. In this era of “posthumanism,” where we are understanding that humans are not the only ones with culture, it is fascinating to see how much of our practices are inspired by animals and the ways of nature. We share cultures across species and this “wealth of consciousness” can inform so many of our folk beliefs. Knowledge is very dynamic, and aspects of human tradition appear to be validated by animal customs, as we hold certain beliefs to be universal and beyond humanity.