A baby’s first birthday, or Chut-Dohl (첫돌) or Dohl (돌), in Korean culture, is a huge deal. Actually, even a baby’s 100 day celebration is a big deal in Korean culture. Historically, many children would pass before they would turn 100 days, let alone 1 year. Poverty was really high in Korea, and many babies would not be able to survive sicknesses. So it was a big celebration to see children reach 1 year of age. People would gather to celebrate the child and wish a long and prosperous life. Of course, living conditions and medicine are now advanced, but it’s still a tradition that carries on within the Korean culture.
I don’t really have too many mommy friends older than my boys so I have only attended one of these celebrations before, but when I began learning more about the Dohl, it seems more like a giant wedding reception all over again. I remember stressing so much for the wedding planning, but in the end, I want to embrace our Korean culture and love on my boys and bless them with a party where we celebrate the day with our family and close friends.
At a Korean first birthday, many different traditional foods are served to the guests and rice cake is distributed to everyone. The baby wears traditional Korean clothes called a hanbok or dolbok and wears a gold ring. It’s all very fancy, in my opinion.
But the biggest highlight of a Korean first birthday is what we call a Doljabi (돌잡이). “DOL” (돌) means birthday and “JABI” (잡이) means to pick. It’s where different items representing different careers are placed in front of the baby and the baby is encouraged to choose an item. Traditionally, items may include thread to symbolize long life and good health, gold coins to symbolize wealth, or book or brush to symbolize education and a scholar. It is believed that the item that the baby chooses predicts his or her future career. It’s a fun little tradition where the child will, hopefully, one day have a successful life by choosing one of these career paths. While traditional items are all great, a lot of people also add or substitute different items. For us, we decided to use the following 6 items to represent different careers: stethoscope (doctor), ball (athlete), microphone (entertainer/musician), gavel (lawyer), money (businessman), and bible (pastor/missionary). I’m really looking forward to this because I know it will be super fun for us as we let our boys each take a turn choosing an item! I wonder what they will pick!
We have also decided to include a cake smash, which is more of a modern American trend these days. Koreans don’t usually do this at a Korean first birthday party, although I see a lot of Korean American families following the trend on instagram. Pretty much, you place a naked baby (our boys will probably be half naked lol) in front of a cake and let the baby go crazy with it. The baby will probably be covered in frosting and cake and I imagine my boys will just have the time of their lives eating this sugary sensory activity. Some people do this as a separate photo session, but I thought it might be fun to do this at the party as a fun event on top of the Doljabi to incorporate both our Korean and American cultures together.
The boys’ birthday is only a week away.. it’s just too crazy and I’m in disbelief, but I wanted to share the process of planning for a baby’s first birthday! Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed in the beginning, but it’s finally progressing into something, and I want to share my checklist with you all! You can follow the link to make a copy and download my planning sheet for your convenience here! Edit and customize as needed!
After we have our party and receive our pictures from the party, I will definitely share all the details. I can’t wait already!
If you are looking at this as a reference for your baby’s first birthday, I want to first say congrats and happy birthday to your little one! What a journey the first year is! I know for sure, ours has been quite a ride. You have survived sleepless nights and whatever other problems that may have come your way, but you did it. As much as this is a party for your baby’s first birthday, I think it’s a party for the parents as well! We get to celebrate and come together with friends and family and share the joys and pains of that first year. Know that you have been doing a wonderful job caring for your little one and I pray that God will continue to give you the wisdom and love to pour out to your family!