by Gina Kimmel
As my son’s second birthday is coming up just right around the corner, I love to look back and reminisce about the year that we have had together as a family. Not long after Grady joined our family was his first birthday. I couldn’t wait to begin planning our celebration, so I dove right into incorporating ideas from both a Korean and American perspective: the best of both worlds. Here’s how we celebrated my son’s first birthday, and the meanings of the traditions at a Korean first birthday.
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When I began planning for my son’s 1st year dol (a Korean tradition that celebrates the first birthday of a baby), I did a lot of research into the traditions and significance of the celebration. The first year of life is very important in Korean culture due to high infant mortality rates in the past. If a child reaches their first birthday, a special ceremony is planned to bless the child and begin to look to the future. After learning more about a Korean dol, we decided to have several traditions included in our party, with a bit of American flair thrown in as well. Here are some of the elements that we included in our celebration for our son.
Infants are dressed in hanboks to celebrate their 1st birthday, which is the traditional dress of South Korea. As with many children that were adopted in Seoul, these hanboks were presented to the little ones by their foster mother prior to leaving Korea. This will continue to be a special keepsake for our family throughout the years.
Vibrant colors can be seen on hanboks for children and these garments are again worn each year for their New Year’s Day celebration as well. In modern times, children usually change out of the hanboks after the doljabi ceremony into casual clothes for the rest of the party.
“Doljabi” at a Korean First Birthday Party
This little ceremony is a fun tradition that can be adapted for each family. This ritual is carried out to predict the future for your youngster. Prior to the party, the parents pick 5-6 items that they will present to their child at the beginning of the party. These can include a number of various items that represent future lifestyles or careers, but here are the six items that we choose to include in our doljabi:
- a paintbrush (artist)
- Korean money (wealth)
- a tambourine (musician)
- a baseball (athlete)
- a magnifying glass (scientist)
- a book (scholar)
The idea of this custom is to place all of the objects in front of your child and whichever they pick up first will reflect their future as an adult. The guest are able to be involved in this activity as well. As you can see above in the picture, there are six glass jars that are placed on the doljabi table along with an explanation as to what they symbolize. Guests are asked to take a piece of paper and write down what they think your child will select. A slip of paper is selected from the winning jar once the ceremony is over and that guest receives a small prize.
The “Dol” Table at a First Korean Birthday Party
One of the main elements of a dol party is a table that is piled high and stacked with different types of food. Stacking the food symbolizes prosperity in Korea, while the fresh fruit represents future children and a happy life for all members of the family. There are many traditional foods that people in Korea include, but due to scarcity in our area, this is where we added a bit of American flavor. Bright colors are always a part of this table, so we included candies and desserts of various colors for decoration.
If you look closely at the birthday cake, you can see that I decorated it with pictures that represent each of the items included in the doljabi ceremony. My son’s Korean name is also written in Hangul on the center of the bottom layer of cake.
Food at our Korean First Birthday Party
We had our son’s dol party at a local restaurant and they were kind enough to whip up a couple of Korean dishes to go along with the pasta that we had as a main course. One of my all time favorite Korean foods is japchae, a dish consisting of sweet potato noodles and veggies. We had this as an appetizer, in addition to kimchi (fermented vegetables), which is served at every meal in Korea.
While I was preparing for our son’s celebration, I was lucky enough to find Korean candies at a local international market, which we set out by each dish as a party favor. Another dessert that was handed out was sugar cookies cut in the shape of a tiger’s paw. Our son was born during the Year of the Tiger, so we thought they would be a perfect addition!
As I look back over the photos that were taken at his first birthday, I am so glad that we decided to include so much of his Korean culture into his celebration. Not only did my family and I learn more about his Korean heritage, but hopefully in the years to come, he can learn to appreciate these lovely Korean customs as well.
I am so honored to be able to share another example of how my family incorporates Korean culture into our home with the readers of KidWorldCitizen. I would love you to stop by and say hello at famiglia&seoul, where I share ways that my family and I explore nature, meaningful play, and everyday ordinary moments that we cherish. If you have any special birthday traditions, I would love for you to share on our Facebook page, too!
Today’s guest post is written by Gina, my friend and fellow teacher and adoptive mom, who shares her adventures in nature, the arts, literature, and meaningful play with her toddler son Grady on her blog famiglia&seoul. Thank you so much Gina!!! I love learning about traditions from different cultures around the world!