Posts Categorized: Culture

5 days of Christmas

(a eulogy and a tale of sharing my own traditions with Han)


The lead up to Christmas is always chaos in my house. This year was no exception, I commemorated Alice’s 20th month with her regular monthly photo, painted a Christmas illustration and had it printed onto personalised cards, finished up my last classes for the year and the last session of Korean playgroup. Alice and I decorated our little Christmas tree, we took our annual Santa photo and Han and I went out and bought our Christmas presents. We had a party at my mum’s house, and Han and I prepared for the most important tradition of the Christmas season..

Singing the 12 Days of Christmas.

Han has spent four Christmases with my family now. Our family is not large, but we well make up for it by noise level and enthusiasm for conversation. Our Christmas is fairly low key these days, we often eat Indian food, and go swimming if it is particularly hot, but we have this one ridiculous tradition that started off one year when my cousin and I found an old, well worn Christmas tea towel at my Grandmother’s house. I suppose we might have been helping dry the dishes, I don’t remember clearly, but the result was, we two enthusiastic girls and our good humoured grandmother, decided it was essential to ceremoniously hold up the tea towel and sing the 12 Days of Christmas, which was printed on it. The first year it was probably just the three of us and perhaps a few siblings or an aunt who happened to be close by, we probably sung it in my Grandfather’s old drafting room, but it became a beloved, important annual tradition, sung with great gusto.

If Han really wanted to impress my family, he would have to learn it in advance, so I spent a few days teaching him, and he was a keen student. My family were so pleased to have another male voice (we are a predominantly female family) and very much appreciated his ability to drag out “FIIIVE GO-OLLLD RRRINGSSS!” to an appropriate excess. It paid off and he has been welcomed back each year since.

This year, as many of you may know, a very important voice was missing from the 12 Days- my Grandmother’s. She passed away just after my birthday and though I’ve sung to her as she slept her final sleep, kissed her beautiful face goodbye, and sat in numb disbelief at her funeral, I haven’t been able to let her go. Anyone who follows this blog would have noticed the delay between posts, I have had to pour all my energy into Alice as it has been a struggle to achieve anything.

When I taught Han the 12 Days of Christmas, he translated the first 5 days into Korean to help him learn the lyrics, and for fun. There was a bit of misunderstanding, and Colly birds became curly birds (곱슬새) but I was always quite amused and impressed by his version.

So, for even more fun, I decided to paint Han’s 5 days of Christmas, as I imagine them from his Korean lyrics. Lately, Alice has this funny little habit where she asks to wear one of our wedding rings on each of her index fingers and then she does a kind of dance with her fingers pointing up, rings hanging on them, before giving them back. My Grandmother never got to see the ring dance. This painting is my tribute to her. If she were still here she probably would have laughed at it with me.

And with this, it’s time to finally say Goodbye, ‘Marnie,’ you were an incredible grandmother, an incredible person and as grand and significant as the sky. You were the foundation of all my childhood memories and remain the essence of childhood to me. Though you lived a long life and died surrounded by loving family, leaving your husband of more than 60 years, four daughters, seven grandchildren, one great granddaughter, and one on the way (my niece or nephew) there was never going to come a day when I was ready for you to go, and your passing has always been the one and only thing beyond the capacity of my imagination. I loved you and love you and am immensely glad that you lived to see me marry and to meet our little Alice. I’m extremely grateful for everything you did for me and all the wonderful times we were able to spend together. You are the definition of a self made woman to me, and I try to follow your example and inspiration in all the things I do.

..And we sang the 12 Days of Christmas, as we do each year. My cousin held up the tea towel, and the sound was definitely not the same, some how it seemed as though we should hear Marnie’s voice among us, though her body was not there. Yet we sang it, and it was ridiculous and beautiful, and I realised it is time to let her go. So here goes.



If you want to try singing Han’s 5 days of Christmas, and you can’t read my handwriting on the illustration, it goes like this:

크리스마스 다섯번째 날 내 사랑이 보내준..

금반지 다섯개!!

네마리 곱슬새,

세마리 프랑스 닭,

두마리 비둘기,

그리고 배나무의 파트리지!


I hope you are having a safe and happy holiday season. We’ve just braved the boxing day sales, which are probably the biggest of the year in Sydney, and I am cleaning up the house in anticipation of a fresh new year. I think it’s going to be a good one!

Teaching manners pt. 2: 배꼽인사

baeggobinsaSince Alice is competent at bowing her head to greet and thank people, I recently taught her to “배꼽인사” (belly button bow)

I taught this in two stages. First I would gently hold her two hands together at her tummy, as I said “두 손을 모으세요” or “두 손을 모아” However you choose to say this, it becomes a cue for the action of placing one hand over the other at the waist. Then I would give her a familiar cue, which is “안녕하세요~” When she hears this, she already associates it with nodding her head once as a bow.

The second step was to increase the depth of the bow and preferably lengthen its duration. You can add an additional cue, “고개를 숙여요” or an appropriate greeting, such as “감사합니다” or “안녕히가세요.” We used “인사~” and as I said the cue I would gently use my hand to push her body forward just above her bottom. Do not push too far or too fast, as this will throw the child off balance. Your hand should be really light and you should allow the baby to make whatever stability compensations he needs.


If you’ve never seen a toddler perform 배꼽인사 before, you may not know what sort of form to expect. Toddlers are very good at keeping their centre of balance slightly forward so they are more likely to fall forward, but if you push them too far forward, they stabilise themselves by bending their knees.

A toddler’s correct 배꼽인사 “form” will most likely include deeply bent knees, wide parted feet and often an exaggerated depth of the bow itself (Alice’s head almost touches the floor)

We practise this bow once or twice a day, very casually. Often when Han arrives home or leaves, so she can experience it in context. If you always start the practise with “배꼽인사 하자!” baby will become used to this as an overall cue and you will ultimately be able to drop the step by step cues quite quickly.

The most important thing is to be patient and realistic, a toddler should not be expected to always have perfect manners or to always 배꼽인사 on command. Give plenty of positive encouragement and feedback, but avoid pushing the issue when she refuses.

Teaching manners pt. 1: 주세요~

pleaseI’ve always felt that good manners are basically essential to getting along well with others in Korea. If I want my daughter to feel comfortable in Korean society as she grows up, teaching appropriate etiquette and manners is really important.

Obviously teaching manners begins with modeling the behaviour you wish to see. Among other things, this has meant making simple polite transactions in front of her with my husband, Han and ensuring we always demonstrate polite greetings.

Around 12 months of age, Alice travelled to Korea with me to prepare for her birthday party. My Mother in Law started encouraging Alice to place one hand on the other, palms upwards to ask when she wanted something. When Alice showed signs that she wanted something (at the time she was crazy about 귤 and 한라봉,) 어머님 would demonstrate this hand gesture and clearly say “주세요” then pause before giving the item to Alice. Once Alice had received it, 어머님 would bow her head and say “고맙습니다,” although Han and I have been using “감사합니다” with her instead. (In Australia, we usually say “Ta” when we give something to a baby, “Ta” being a sort of baby version of “Thankyou,” so it is obviously the same lesson, but the Korean way involves gestures and perhaps expects a little more of the baby)

By somewhere around 14 months, I started gently putting Alice’s hands into this position and saying “주세요” and she quite quickly learnt to use this gesture to say please. We also would use a hand to gently nudge her head forward in a nod for  “감사합니다” which she picked up with even greater ease.

For a few months now she has also been adding “니다~” or “은다~” to her “주세요” hand gesture when she wants something.. and the more she wants it the higher and sweeter the pitch, haha! It seems to be an attempt at saying “감사합니다”

So even though she does not yet have a huge vocabulary, Alice is already learning and using basic manners.




포대기 매는 법 How to use a traditional Korean carrier


As you could see in my last post, 포대기 is the traditional way of carrying baby. There are a variety of styles nowadays, and perhaps originally they just used a big rectangle of fabric, but the basic 포대기 is a big, thick rectangular blanket, usually with a folded down top edge and a long strap attached to each side near the top. They come in different widths and lengths. The one I use, a gift from my lovely Mother in law, is of the wider and longer variety.

Generally you would start to use a 포대기 from the time baby has gained reasonable neck control (approximately 100 days/3 months) I saw a woman in the DPRK’s 1972 film, 꽃파는 처녀 using a 포대기 a bit like a sling but she seems to be providing head support with her hand as you can see in this screen capture:

flowergirlIf you are going to use 포대기, apply the same care and commonsense as when using any other baby carrier or mobility device. I am not an expert on infant physiology and don’t want any harm to come to your child. I’ve also read a few people’s accounts of becoming bow legged from being carried excessively in a 포대기 as an infant. I don’t know whether studies have been done on this, but again, use it carefully and in moderation.

I didn’t use the 포대기 much when Alice was small since it took me a while to become confident tying it by myself, and I often didn’t have someone around to help me tie it. Now she is older (17 months) she much prefers 포대기 to the Ergo Performance carrier we used to use, and happily climbs onto my back for a walk to the shops. Since she is heavier, I actually find 포대기 much more comfortable and easier on my shoulders and back, than the Ergo.

Some Korean mums just use 포대기 at home, to lull baby to sleep. I use it as a general carrier.


How to tie the 포대기:

1. Start with a piggy back! I grasp Alice around the chest, under her armpits and swing her over my shoulder (need strong arms for this) Sometimes I sit on the edge of a bed and call out “어부바!” which is a baby word for giving a piggy back (from 업다) and she climbs onto my back.

A smaller baby should be in a sort of crawling position, with their legs bent and thighs under their body, a larger baby should also have legs bent comfortably, avoid wrapping baby’s legs around your waist, Alice seems to know what is comfortable and naturally assumes the right position.

2. bring the 포대기 up over baby’s shoulders, grasping the top corners of the blanket, where the straps start, and gently pulling forward so baby is held in firmly. Keeping the whole thing tight is essential to carrying baby securely.

3. Bring one side of the blanket across your chest, the strap should go over the other side of the blanket. Hold it their firmly as you bring the other side across to overlap. Again, check that it is tight across baby’s shoulders.

4. Each strap wraps back around baby. they should cross each other under baby’s bottom, creating a sling seat.

5. After crossing over, pull the straps back to the front of your body, pulling firmly, but being mindful of baby’s leg position. Tie securely at the front.

6. Check that everything is secure and the straps are holding baby firmly under the bottom. You’re ready to go!

I will discuss some alternative 포대기 carrying styles in upcoming posts.