Friday, August 29, 2014

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 29): Korean Superstitions


If you're new to the blog, welcome! This post will make a whole lot more sense if you know that my Asian-American husband is Taiwanese (his ancestors hailed from northern China and headed to present-day Taiwan during the revolution) and Korean. His family's culture(s) and history had virtually nothing to do with how I met him or fell in love with him, but now that we're married it certainly impacts how I interact with and understand my in-laws and, of course, has somewhat influenced my husband's upbringing.

Because of this, I enjoy learning about these cultures. I want to try and better understand my in-laws and what kinds of simple, common, everyday pieces of cultural norms my husband was surrounded by throughout his childhood that differ (sometimes greatly) from my own experiences.

Sometimes I take for granted the simple things I've come to learn and internalize as I strive to better understand my husband's family members and their cultures. There was a time when I had no clue about certain norms, practices, and even common superstitions so I'm guessing that many of you don't know such things either. In order to help process some of the things I've learned I plan to begin sharing some of it on the blog with you all (are you excited?! You're welcome, haha).

So let's get these quick takes rolling! For the record, my husband is a convert to Catholicism so our religious beliefs mean that neither of us are superstitious. However, back when I was pregnant I was often told things by my mother-in-law or Michael's grandmother that I thought were strange; now I know that they were simply speaking from their cultural understanding Korean superstitions sometimes comes in handy!

Here are a few Korean superstitions I've learned over the years - beginning with the ones related to pregnancy and motherhood followed by some common, general superstitions.

--- 1 ---
Eating seaweed soup. This is a traditional food served to mothers shortly after giving birth. It's believed to help restore the nutrients you lose from having the baby so you will regain your strength/health. It's also commonly served to pregnant women to promote good health and to "cleanse" the body. Although you'd better hope your pregnancy and/or labor recovery don't coincide with taking any important exams....

--- 2 ---
Massaging baby's legs. Michael's grandmother once showed me how I should supposedly rub Gabriel's legs every time I change his diaper. At the time, I had no clue what she was talking about. Later I learned that this is a common superstition; supposedly if you massage your baby's legs it will make them grow taller/faster. Additionally, a common superstition is that you should not shake your legs. Because prosperity in Korean culture is believed to be held within your legs (?), shaking them means you'll shake all your fortune out of them!

--- 3 ---
Wearing socks...all the time. When I was pregnant I was told that going barefoot was only acceptable until I gave birth; after that, supposedly I needed to wear socks (despite the fact that I gave birth to an August South Florida). My mother-in-law said that I would get sick if I didn't wear socks (I'm guessing that they view women who just gave birth to be more vulnerable, which is why going barefoot was considered okay prior to labor). According to Kimchi Mamas, it's also common to swaddle the baby and ensure the baby is wearing socks regardless of the weather. Needless to say, I did not subject myself nor my newborn to this torture in the 100-degree heat.

--- F ---
Staring at pictures of beautiful babies during pregnancy. I was told that I should do this so my child would be good-looking. I certainly didn't do this and I think our boy came out just fine. ;) Confused about the "F" instead of a "4"? You'll understand once you get to number 7....

--- 5 ---
Food cravings and/or dreams tell you the gender of your baby. Supposedly cravings for fruit or sour foods = girl. Cravings for meat or sweets = boy. Additionally, it's common for a family member (mother, mother-in-law, spouse, sibling, etc.) to have a dream that reveals your baby's gender; seeing a tiger, dragon, or strong animal represents a boy while birds, snakes, rings, or flowers indicate a girl.

--- 5 ---
Never trim your finger nails at night. What supposedly happens if you do? A mouse will eat the clippings, transform into a human, and steal your soul. Weird and terrifying all at once.

--- 6 ---
Whistling at night. This superstition says that whistling at night will attract ghosts and/or snakes. In order to keep these things far away from your household, whistling at night is considered a no-go. Personally, I don't whistle that much - but the thought of not letting anyone whistle a happy tune at night just makes me sad!

--- 7 ---
Fear of the number 4. Apparently the Korean pronunciation of "4" sounds a lot like the Chinese pronunciation of "death." Because of this, elevators often use "F" to designate the 4th floor - or they skip having a 4th level all-together (much like elevators in the West tend to superstitiously skip 13).

Happy Labor Day Weekend, everybody! For more quick takes head over to the link-up at Converstion Diary (thanks for hosting, Jen!). And, if you simply can't get enough about Korean superstitions: check out the links below to read about the ever-popular fan death, writing names in red, Deoksugung pathway, and more. :)


  1. Bahahahahaha the nail clippings?! That's TERRIFYING! Who thought of such a thing?

  2. So, tell us? Did the food cravings work? Or did any of the relatives have dreams that they told you about? Personally, I know that the food cravings said nothing of the sex of my children - considering I had all daughters. Also, I agree with Christina. Wow!

    1. Totally untrue in my case. I craved lots of fruit and the two biggest food aversions I had the entire first trimester were 1) meat and 2) sweets. And I obviously had a boy, haha. Although Michael's mom had a dream in which Michael caught a big fish - which I guess in Chinese culture symbolizes a boy?