My co-teacher invited me to her son’s First Birthday Party (dol or doljanchi – 돌 or 돌잔치), which is a big deal in Korea. I was super excited to go because I always wanted to experience one. The party takes place in a Wedding Hall, and like a wedding most guest give money (around $30-50) to the birthday boy.
There was even an MC, making jokes and moving along the celebration. Again, similar to Korean weddings, the buffet was shared with other birthday parties that were happening simultaneously. The whole thing was about 3 hours, though guests seem to wander off and come in when they wanted to. The family was very busy making sure they spoke to all the guest and posed for the camera and the videographer.
Here I am with the whole family. They wear the traditional hanboks, which look amazing as a matching set! So beautiful!
Party favors! I received the wine bottle as a prize. The game was “Who has traveled the furthest”. I won by default lol.
In the past, due to a lack of medical information, Korea’s seasonal temperature differences, and many childhood related diseases, the death rate for children was extremely high. Many children died before their first birthday. After the age of one year, the survival rate steeply increased, making this milestone a very happy one for the child’s parents. It has also been a custom to celebrate a child’s 100 day birthday (baek-il) , but in most areas this birthday is less important than the Tol and any celebrations are smaller in scale.
Tol has two meanings in Korean. The most common meaning is a child’s first birthday. It can also be used as a generic description for birthdays: Chut-tol (first birthday), Du-tol (second birthday), Seo-tol (third birthday), etc.
For her/his first birthday, a child is dressed in traditional Korean clothes. A boy will wear the hood that was the custom for unmarried young men, while girls wear make-up. A key part of the celebration activities is the toljabee ceremony where the child is seated before a table on which various foods (rice, rice cakes, jujube, etc.) and objects (calligraphy set, pencil, knife, book, money, thread, needle, scissors, ruler or bow and arrow) have been placed. He/she is then encouraged to pick one or two of these. According to tradition, the first or second choice foretells the infant’s future.
For example, if the object is a:
Bow and arrow: the child will become a warrior or have a military career
Needle and thread: the child will have a long life
Jujube: the child will have many descendants
Book, pencil, brush: the child will be a successful scholar
Ruler, needle, scissors: the child will be talented with his/her hands
Knife: the child will be a good cook
Money or rice: the child will be wealthy
Cakes or other foods: the child will be a government official
Each food type and other items on the table have specific meanings.
-Baekseolgi (백설기 white steamed rice cakes) symbolize a pure and divine clean spirit and longevity.
-Susu-gyeongdan (수수경단 rice cakes coated with rough red bean powder) are used to ward off evil spirits so that the child can grow without any disease. (Koreans believed that evil dislikes red color.) Koreans believed that if they prepared these two rice cakes for each birthday until 10 years old, the child would not fall down and would grow healthy.
-Injeolmi (인절미 sticky rice cakes) and chal-ddeok (sticky rice cakes) are prepared to wish the child to be tenacious and strong due to the stickiness of the rice cakes.
-Songpyeon (송편 stuffed rice cakes shaped like a half-moon) Two different moon cakes are prepared. One is left empty and the other one filled. The empty moon cake means the child will grow with a big heart. The filled one means to grow to be wise.
-Jujubes (대추) and fruit are for the child’s descendants to multiply and prosper
Like I said earlier, because of the high infant mortality and so on, the child’s first birthday was very important. Here are some pictures I found on the subject: