Getting ready for your first doljanchi?
Make the most out of that special day with some tips from a doljanchi veteran!
This post includes:
- what doljanchi is
- reason for doljanchi ceremonies
- what to wear and bring as a gift
- and more!
Doljanchi is a fun part of celebrating Korean heritage.
Find out why it’s so important!
What is doljanchi (돌잔치) in Korea?
Doljanchi is a Korean tradition celebrating the first birthday of a baby.
“Dol (돌)” means the first birthday when a baby turns a “full circle of twelve months”, and “janchi (잔치)” means party or feast.
Since others need to attend the party, most doljanchi happen on the weekend before the actual birthday.
Before the pandemic, doljanchi used to be held at fancy buffets or hotel banquets. Now with COVID-19, most Koreans throw a small house party for family members only.
Why do Koreans celebrate doljanchi?
The number 1 reason is a sad one. The infant mortality rate used to be high in Korea, so birth registrations were often delayed.
(Both my parents have different birthdays from their ID cards. My emobu even has a different birth year, so he was happy to retire later than his actual age.)
Once babies made it past the first year, they were more likely to survive longer. So, Koreans have been holding a feast to commemorate this day and pray for the longevity of the child.
Although the infant mortality rate decreased, the status of doljanchi has been elevated due to the increasingly low birth rate in South Korea.
What is doljabi (돌잡이)?
Doljabi (돌잡이) is a Korean custom and event during doljanchi to bless and predict a baby’s future.
The birthday boy or girl sits in front of the doljabi kit and chooses one item.
That chosen item is said to determine their occupation among other things. (No one truly believes this, and it’s mostly for fun!)
Doljabi items evolve as values or preferred jobs change.
In the past when eating well and living well was the best fortune, the most popular items were rice and yarn.
However, now that everyone eats and lives well, these items are now placed in a corner to lower the chance of the baby grabbing them.
Common doljabi items and their meanings are as below:
- Yarn: Longevity
- Jujube: Prosperous descendant
- Rice/Money: Wealth (Koreans now place debit/credit cards or even foreign currency like US dollars or Japanese Yen. It means the baby will immigrate and make lots of money overseas.)
- Bow (for boys): Police officer or professional soldier
- Book: Scholar or writer (A book in a different language means the baby will be bilingual or multilingual.)
- Pencil: Teacher or professor
- Stethoscope: Doctor
- Microphone: Celebrity, reporter, singer, etc.
- Gavel: Judge, prosecutor, lawyer, etc.
- Calculator: Career in finance
- Sporting Goods: Athlete (Items vary depending on famous athletes of the time. Golf ball during Se-ri Park’s era, baseball when Chan-ho Park was big, and figure skating boots when Yuna Kim was the talk of the town)
- Mouse: Computer guru
- Camera: Movie director, photographer, etc.
How to host a doljanchi?
Here are some general guidelines, but feel free to make it your own special way!
- Duration: 2 hours
- Number of guests: 8-50
- Location: house or hall, depending on number of guests
Step 1. Find the right venue
For smaller celebrations, you can use your house, an apartment clubhouse or community center.
For something more grandiose, you can rent out an event hall.
Step 2. Prepare a Dolsang
You can decorate however you want!
Most Koreans place fruits, rice cakes and a cake on one table, and a doljabi kit on the other.
Step 3. Invite your guests
For smaller gatherings, immediate family such as parents, siblings and grandparents will do.
For larger gatherings, anything goes depending on your budget and size of your venue. In Korea, some people will invite their coworkers and acquaintances. This probably won’t work in other countries though.
Step 4. Welcome guests
It’s tradition to wear either hanbok or formal clothes like suits and dresses, have a small table set up with bowls representing each doljabi item and greet guests one by one as they arrive.
Guests will take a number on something like a raffle ticket, tear it and place half in the item bowl they think the baby will choose.
Optional: Hire an MC to conduct the event and have a video playing of the baby’s first year.
Step 5. Have the meal
For smaller gatherings, you can provide a course meal.
Buffet style meals are common for larger doljanchi.
Step 6. Light the cake
Light the big cake and sing happy birthday together. Then, have the parents blow out the candle. (This sometimes happens before the meal in Korea.)
Step 7. Hold the Doljabi
Now the highlight of the doljanchi event. Everybody cheers for the baby to grab an item by yelling jabara (잡아라 or “grab”).
There will be a raffle or lucky draw after doljabi with the number each guest took at the beginning. A parent picks one person among the guests who guessed the right doljabi item. A common gift in Korea for this is a Starbucks or department store gift card.
Optional: Have multiple rounds of lucky draws for long-distance prize (for the guest who traveled the furthest distance), and lucky seat prize (random number among all the leftover raffle tickets)
Step 8. Thank guests and give out presents
Finally, after a few hours, it’s time to say farewell to your guests. You can do this by handing out the thank you presents.
What to bring as a gift when you’re invited to doljanchi?
It depends on how close you are to the parent of the baby.
Koreans give “dol banji (돌반지 or 24k gold ring)” to a close friends or family members.
We usually bring and give cash in an envelope.
|Acquaintance||30,000 to 50,000 won (30-50 dollars)|
|Coworker||50,000 to 100,000 won (50-100 dollars)|
|Close Friend||100,000 to 200,000 won (100-200 dollars)|
|Relative/Family||200,000 won or above (200 dollars or above)|
What to wear to doljanchi?
The dress code should be neat, somewhere between formal and casual.
- For men: Suits are standard in Korea, but business casual attire is also recommended.
- For women: Dress or blouse with skirt or trousers are nice for doljanchi.
Since doljanchi has a lively atmosphere, navy, charcoal or bright colors are fitting, rather than all black like a funeral.
What to give guests if you’re hosting doljanchi?
In order to show gratitude to those attending your baby’s doljanchi, most Koreans give dab-lye-pum (답례품 or a return gift) to guests.
High quality towels with embroidery are the most common gifts in Korea. Also, rice cakes, mugs and soap are good as a small token of gratitude.
What do Korean children wear on their first birthday?
Korean kids wear hanbok on their first birthday. They also get to don snazzy hats called jobawi (조바위) or gulle (굴레) for girls and a bokgeon (복건) or hogeon (호건) for boys. You’ll be asking if they come in adult sizes.
What is the conception dream in Korea?
It’s called 태몽 (taemong). Every Korean knows which taemong their moms had for them. Most Korean women have taemong, but sometimes their husbands or even parents do as well.
Some pregnant women say they dream of:
- fruit (apples, persimmons, cherries, chestnuts)
- animals (tigers, snakes, goldfish)
- nature (rivers, rainbows)
Koreans also think that the type of dream can predict the gender of a baby. (We don’t truly believe it, it’s just for fun.) For example, a dragon or tiger means they will have a son. Interpretation may be tricky if you dream of a peach though. Many small peaches mean a daughter whereas one large peach means a son.
What’s the difference between baegil (100-day celebration) and dol (1st birthday) for Korean children?
The historical reason for baegil janchi (백일 잔치) is similar to dol janchi. Initially, baegil janchi celebrates the baby’s survival in spite of frequent infant deaths. (FYI, Korean couples also celebrate their 100-day anniversary.)
Nowadays, baegil janchi is somewhat simplified with commemorative photo shoots and meals with the family. Some parents still order a box of rice cakes (susupattteok or baekseolgi) and share them with family, friends and acquaintances.
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