The age of 61. Hoegap (회갑, 回甲) literally means “the return to gap” or completing the traditional sexagenarian cycle, that is, five cycles of the zodiac’s twelve years.
The year one reaches the age of 61 is also called hwangamnyeon (lit. year of the return to gap) or gamnyeon (lit. gap year), and one’s birthday in that year is called hwangamnal (lit. day of the return to gap) or gamnal (lit. gap day). In the morning of one’s 61st birthday, the children throw a banquet to celebrate the occasion and offer liquor in supplication for the parent’s well-being and longevity. The eldest son and his wife offer the first cup, followed by other children in descending order. If it is the 61st birthday of a deceased parent, the children hold a memorial rite at home or at the graveside of the deceased in the morning. If the hwangapju (lit. 61st birthday person) or the guest of honor has a living parent, a dolsang (first-birthday party table) is also prepared in front of a formal banquet table (keunsang), and he or she offers liquor and bows to his or her parent before making sweet gestures to please them.
At the 61st birthday banquet, a splendid celebratory table of food is offered to the birthday person, and separate tables (juansang) for the guests. Although varied depending on family, region, economic situation and season, the main table setting was little different from that on the table for ancestral memorial rites, which is why the banquet is also called sanjesa (lit. memorial rite for the living). The only difference is that there is no soup or rice on the banquet table for the 61st birthday. Sometimes a small table of a few simple dishes (immaetsang) is presented behind the splendid table for the guest of honor to snack on as the main table is only for display until the party is over. Dishes on the banquet table are served in odd numbers and the foods are piled in mounds as high as 15㎝, 21㎝ or 27㎝. The table is flanked with gifts and artificial flowers, while the piles of food are adorned with well-wishing characters—such as chuk (Kor. 축, Chin. 祝, supplication), su (Kor. 수, Chin. 壽, longevity) and bok (Kor. 복, Chin. 福, fortune)—by varying the colors of the components. The height of the food on the table is considered a measurement of the filial piety of the children of the guest of honor. Hence, an expert called suksu (Kor. 숙수, Chin. 熟手, lit. experienced hand) is often called in to pile the food higher and decorate it more sumptuously. These days, however, many families skip the banquet for this occasion in favor of a family trip or a trip by the birthday person and his or her spouse.
A person who has passed the age of 61 gains a new status: he or she is officially recognized as a senior member of society who has completed the traditional sexagenarian cycle; in the case of a deceased person, he or she is honored as an ancestral deity who completed the cycle and gives protection to the family. In other words, the birthday ceremony serves to integrate the community.