This is a sponsored guest post.
People who love watching Korean dramas or ever been to the country must have found one thing very fascinating – that is Korea’s custom of first birthday celebrations! Also known as Doljanchi, it is one of the wonderful features of Korean culture. This Korean tradition celebrates the 1st birthday of a baby. Koreans have unique rituals to mark specific milestones when a person reaches a new age in his or her life. The word “Dol” simply means that 365 days has been completed since the baby was born.
HISTORY BEHIND DOLJANCHI
If we take a look at the early centuries of Korea’s history, the death rates of children were rising day by day. A lot of children would pass away due to illness or unknown reasons before their first birthday. Ever since then, the custom of Doljanchi began. All people of the community will be invited to celebrate a baby’s first birthday together. All guests are to bring gifts for the baby and exchange food amongst themselves. This way they wished and prayed for a long life of fortune for the baby. This celebration was immensely of great value in the past, as well as now, since many newborns would be unable to make it to their first birthday! This is due to the lack of medicinal knowledge and prevalent plagues and diseases. Therefore, every time a child successfully made it through the first 365 days from the day they were born, a big celebration would take place in gratitude and happiness.
The baby would be dressed up beautifully in a traditional costume called the “Hanbok” Parents along with all the guests would have to thank two Korean gods: Sanshin (the mountain spirit) and Samshin (the birth goddess) before beginning the Doljabi rite. They request both the Gods to bless their child with health and wealth.
A tradition known as ‘doljabi’ is the main highlight of Doljanchi celebrations. What happens here? A big table of foods and materials is displayed in front of the birthday baby, doljabi set by joteta. The table includes things like paint brushes, strings, ink, cash, threads etc. This prompts the child to pick up an item randomly from the table. The item that he/she chooses is thought to predict the destiny of the child.
Let’s say, the child picks up a paint brush, or a book of calligraphy – wise men say that they will grow up to become very intelligent with a sharp brain. How about if the child takes money? Then they will become very rich in future. What if they pick up fruits or desserts? It will denote that a child will never starve in his life. If the child picks up the strings, it is taken that they will live a long life. The kinds of items put on display in front of the child to select from, have developed through the course of time as a result of the growing perception of productive careers by their society.
Previously we got to know what the babies do on their first birthdays, how about the rest of the family members? They have to offer special salutations and express gratitude to “Samshin”. What’s this now? The term refers to three gods who are believed to take care of the baby’s life while growing up. The parents pray for their children’s well-being by serving Samshin with their traditional foods such as : Bibimbap rice, seaweed soup, and rice cakes.
Do only the gods get to eat on the birthday? Certainly nope! Special dishes are prepared for the guests and all family members. Parents arrange a special ‘Dol’ table, where different food trays are stacked high on top of one another to symbolize a prosperous long-life for the baby. The Dol is generally prepared with a big rice cake that has multiple layers of vibrant colors. From beef ramen to fruit salad, and even regional Korean dishes find their way to the table. Traditional seaweed soup such as “Miyeok guk” is served on every birthday starting from the first birthday of the baby. This is to remind kids of all the hardships their mother went through to bring them into this world with love.
Times have changed. Technology has evolved. Birthday celebrations have modernized. So has the tradition of Doljanchi!
In this new era, Koreans celebrate Doljanchi with a twist! The whole family throws a huge party that is held in buffet restaurants or convention centres. Parents prepare some prizes for those invited to come and they have to play a game together to win those prizes. As soon as they enter the party hall, everyone gets a small piece of paper. The paper contains a number on it. Guests who can correctly answer a question asked about the baby will win a prize. No time limit set for answering. Some families have a different style for playing the same game though. The one who is hosting the birthday party will turn around, often blindfolded, and then randomly will speak out a number. The lucky person who will have that number in his piece of paper will be rewarded with a prize. Not only do guests get prizes, they bring gifts and presents for the birthday child too.
What about Doljabi? Is the fortune-telling custom now gone? Absolutely no! That tradition is still alive, just that now it is carried out with a twist. They arrange a big table in the party centre where you have all the materials needed. Like pens, computer mouse, textbooks, etc. Guests bet on the probability over which item the baby might choose. If the baby chooses an item that matches with the prediction of any guest then that person will win a prize on behalf of the host. If a lot of guests had predicted their bet on it, then all of them would get a prize!
Though Koreans are now greatly influenced by the western culture of blowing candles on birthday cakes, yet the old tradition of eating the miyeok-guk (seaweed soup) during birthdays is still alive.