Birthday parties are always a treat, but it’s not very often that we are able to attend a traditional Korean baby’s first birthday. One of Kate Aspen’s very own, Christina, celebrated her little one’s first birthday not too long ago. The party was centered around a tradition where the baby gets to pick objects from a table. Here’s a brief history lesson on the tradition as well as a description of how Christina’s little one, Naomi, celebrated her special day:
Doljanchi or dol is a Korean tradition that celebrates a baby’s first birthday. The birthday baby wears a hanbok–traditional Korean attire that reflects the style of the Joseon dynasty.
Before the modern age, infant mortality rates were high in Korea, and many babies died before their first birthday. Therefore, a baby’s first birthday was an important milestone. The doljanchi was a community affair, with whole villages celebrating and wishing the baby a long and prosperous life. The highlight of the doljanchi was a ritual where the baby is placed in front of a table with different objects. The baby was then urged to pick an object from the table. It was believed that the object selected would foretell the baby’s future or profession. Historically, the objects used in this tradition were string, brushes, money, and food. The string represented long life. Brushes represented a scholarly life. Money represented wealth, and food signified that the baby would not be hungry. The types of objects placed in front of the baby and their associated meaning has changed over time to reflect Korean and Korean-American society’s evolving perception of success.
At Naomi’s party, she changed into her colorful hanbok right before the dol ceremony. The objects she chose from included a book, paintbrush, calculator, money, and a ball. Depending on which object was picked, it could have represented being a scholar, an artist, an engineer, being wealthy, or becoming an athlete. When it was time for Naomi to pick, she was very much gravitating towards the little golf ball in front of her, but in the end, she chose the book! It was a pleasant surprise for her parents but they were happy in knowing that little Naomi would one day enter a scholarly profession.