Growing up in a Korean household, my mother always made miyeok guk for breakfast on my birthday. She would get up extra early to make this special soup for me so that I can have it before I went off to school. She did this every single birthday as far as I can remember. I can still remember waking up to that sweet roasted smell of miyeok guk every birthday morning. For my mom, one couldn’t have a birthday without having miyeok guk.
It isn’t just my mom who felt this way, it is every Korean mom. It is a long tradition in Korea to have miyeok guk on one’s birthday and a birthday without this special soup doesn’t feel like a birthday at all. Miyeok guk is an important part of one’s birthday. People will greet each other on one’s birthday by asking, “Have you had some miyeok guk today?”
This soup was traditionally eaten by pregnant women for about a month prior to giving birth. Eating miyeok guk on one’s birthday is seen as a way to remind our children not to forget the pain of childbirth and to appreciate the care given by their mothers.
My mother has passed away, but I can still clearly remember my mother making this very special soup for me and my sister on our birthdays. It was quite special.
My sister and my birth dates are only 4 days apart. My mom would get up early on each of our birthdays to make us miyeok guk. But we always had a birthday party together. As a child, I did not like holding our birthday parties together. As a child, I felt that I deserved my own special day to celebrate and did not want to necessarily share it with my sister. Our shared birthday parties made my own birthday seem less special as I had to share it with my sister. It always felt that my mom wanted to ‘cut corners’ as it was much easier to hold one celebration for two children, then to hold two different celebrations.
In 2004, I moved to the United States. Since then, my sister and I have not been able to be there for each other’s birthdays, let alone celebrate it together.
Now I look back at my childhood and appreciate those share birthday celebrations. Looking back it was fun to celebrate our birthdays and just have one big party. There was just the two of us-me and my sister- so it is nice that our birthday’s land so close together that we can actually celebrate it at the same time. Looking back at those shared birthdays, I realize how wonderful those birthdays were and I miss them very much.
This year, due to an unforeseen urgent need to apply for my son’s passport, we needed to make a two day trip up to Toronto. It just so happened that the day that we needed to go up landed on my sister’s birthday. After nine years, we were finally able to celebrate each other’s birthday.
It was truly special to have dinner and spend some time together on her special day.
To make it even more special, my third book, “Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit” just got released two weeks ago. I dedicated my third book to my sister. It was really nice to give her my book in person, share a birthday meal together and share laughter and joy with each other’s family.
It was a wonderful celebration!
Here’s to many more birthday celebrations (hopefully together—).
[read also: My Birthday & Will Disregard for Environment Lead to Destruction?]
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the MATS program at Moravian Theological Seminary. She is the author of Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit (Palgrave Pivot), The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology (Palgrave Macmillan) and The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (Pilgrim Press).