What is Doljanchi?

Mary McMahon

Doljanchi is a traditional Korean celebration of a child's first birthday. The first birthday has special meaning in Korean culture, and some people believe that the first birthday is an opportunity to pray for blessings for the child's future. A doljanchi celebration includes feasting, gifts, and a special ceremony called doljabi. In Korea, doljanchi parties are often held at big restaurants, although they can also be held at home, and in regions with a large Korean population, doljanchi celebrations can sometimes be spotted in establishments which are popular with the Korean community.

The celebration of a child's first birthday is known as doljanchi in Korea.
The celebration of a child's first birthday is known as doljanchi in Korea.

The symbolism of the close of the first year of life may be related to historically high infant mortality rates. If a child can make it past one year of age, he or she has a much better chance of surviving to adulthood. At doljanchi, the child and the parents are celebrated, with guests expressing wishes for good fortune and happiness in the child's future.

Gold rings are a traditional doljanchi gift.
Gold rings are a traditional doljanchi gift.

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At the party, the key event is the doljabi, when the child is placed in front of a table with a display of symbolic items like pens, books, rice, money, and so forth. Korean parents believe that their child's fate will be dictated by whatever he or she picks up at the doljabi. A child who grabs a pen, for example, will become a scholar, while a child who grabs a bundle of string will have a long life. This event is usually eagerly watched by the crowd.

Parents and child typically wear traditional Korean dress at the doljanchi, and guests may appear in a mixture of traditional and Western garb. After the doljabi, the party attendees sit down for a feast at which rice cakes, seaweed soup, and plain rice are served, as an expression of thanks to the Gods who watch over childhood. Other foods are usually on offer as well, with every guest taking at least a symbolic bite of the rice dishes and seaweed soup. Seaweed soup is also served on future birthdays in many Korean families.

Gifts are given to the parents and the child at a doljanchi. Gold rings are traditional, as are other gold products, as they are meant to convey fortune and long life. People may also give money, clothing, and other presents. Fluctuations in gold prices can be problematic for some guests, who may opt to give money rather than expensive gold items.

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