A person’s 60th birthday is the 1st elder party of their life, called HwehGap (회갑). When this tradition came about, 60-years of life was considered great longevity. So because it’s becoming increasingly embarrassing to celebrate 60-years of life in this day and age, most opt to skip the 60th Grand Celebration for the 70th, known as ChilSoon (칠순).
HwehGap’s Origin & Transition
It is believed that the ceremony of hweh gap began in the late Chosun Dynasty. They came about when Korea finally experienced peace after persisting through the Japanese invasion (1592-98). After years of brutality, what the Koreans chose to do when finally finding peace again was to glorify their elders with love and elevation. For this reason, the ceremonies were often accompanied with a Hanshi– poetry written and presented by a family member venerating and praising the star elder– called “Su Yeon” Poem (수연시)– a “congratulatory” poem. Some even have a collection of these poems written by great writers and keep it as a family heirloom, and this tradition is still passed down in some parts today.
In the absence of a hanshi, the celebration took place with a light drink and side dishes prepared and shared with some friends. But in modern times, Koreans have started to rent out large spaces in restaurants to accommodate more guests and the number of guests have also increased from close family and friends to everyone they know nearing hundreds.
The apparel for this day was traditionally Dopo (formal hanbok), but now regular hanboks or formal wear (suits) are newly made and worn. The progeny (usually the son) who would be conducting traditional drink presentations and forehead-to-floor bows to the elder would also wear fully decked out traditional formal hanbok wear and hats, but now just new clothes suffice.
Hweh Gap and Other Longevity-Celebration Parties
① 60th 육순 (Yuk Soon) (59 in American age)
②62nd 진갑, 회갑 (Jin Gap or Hweh Gap)(61 in American Age)
(①+② are now consolidated into 1 major Hweh Gap Event)
③70th 칠순, 희연, 고희 (Chil Soon, Hee Yun, or Go Hee )
④77th 희수연 (Hee Su Yun)
⑤80th 팔순 (Pal Soon)
⑥88th 미수(Mi Su)
⑦99th 백수(Bek Su)
⑧Elder 60th Wedding Ceremony 회혼례(Hee Hon Leh)
An Elder Wedding Ceremony is a ceremony where a couple celebrates their 60th wedding anniversary by conducting the same ceremony in formal traditional wedding wear just like 60 years previous in front of their progeny. Friends and family are invited in a grand party and the parents’ re-marriage is congratulated.
Stay tuned for Part II: “How to Assemble a Traditional Elder Party Table: 회갑상 (Hweh Gap Sang)”