Dr. Christine J. Hong
Different cultures have different birthday rituals. In Korean culture we practice the tradition of eating Miyeok-guk on your birthday. Miyeok- guk is a nutritious and delicious seaweed soup made with beef or seafood broth. The flavor is rich and savory, and when you eat it with a bowl of hot rice and kimchi, it’s a comforting and homey meal. Korean people eat Miyeok-guk on their birthdays because it is an age-old tradition to eat Miyeok-guk after women give birth. The iodine and vitamin-rich seaweed soup restores energy,cleanses the blood,and increases the rate of physical healing from the trauma of giving birth. It also increases the flow of breastmilk. Korean women will sometimes eat Miyeok-guk— and only Miyeok-guk—until they are a few months postpartum. It is usually your mother or grandmother who makes Miyeok-guk for you.
We eat Miyeok-guk as the first meal on our birthdays not only to celebrate growing another year older, but also to remember and honor the labor of our mothers. Now, as an adult, on the rare occasion that I get to eat Miyeok-guk made by my umma’s (mother’s) hands, I feel a deep sense of gratitude with each bite. Now, I make Miyeok-guk for my children on their birthdays, a tradition I’m passing down because it connects my children to their Korean culture and to the ancestral ties alive in this simple and delicious soup. This soup provides an intrinsic connection—like an umbilical cord—to mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers who used and tasted the same ingredients throughout their lifetimes.
After the birth of Jesus, we turn our attention away from Mary who labored to give birth to the infant in the manger. Yet can we keep our eyes on Mary too? Can we offer her some nourishment? Can we remember her as the person who carried salvation in her womb? On Christmas Eve, let’s look to the ancestral ties Jesus leaves with us on earth by focusing on his mother and her courage and vulnerability—a woman who needed postpartum care, a good meal, compassionate partners, and rest. When we remember the birth of Jesus, let us also remember Mary as mother, our hearts full of gratitude.