A Korean Baby's First Birthday
Among Koreans, the closest celebration to a baby shower is the baby’s first birthday (dol). Up until recently, no one but the immediate family saw the newborn for 100 days because of the high infancy death rate. Due to changes in medicine and ways of living, this is changing. However, Koreans welcome the baby in other ways, on other days.
The dol calls for a big celebration. The baby’s traditional attire (hanbok) is quite colorful and vibrant with a belt (dol-ddi) for longevity and a silk pouch (dol-jumuni) for luck. The birthday table is laden with ceremonial foods such as a variety of rice cakes (tteok), seaweed soup (miyuk-guk), and confectionaries.
Also laid out are seasonal fruits (perhaps in animal shapes), white rice, and other foods. The baby sits at the table so everyone else can see him or her. During the djolabee, the baby selects items on the table which are believed to predict his or her future. Books or pencils mean the child will be a scholar, rice or money represent wealth, needle and thread for long life, scissors or a ruler for talented hands, and a bow and arrow mean a warrior (for boys).
After the djolabee, most of the food is shared with guests during which time they wish good luck to the child. Sharing the tteok is thought to bring bad luck to the child. Traditional gifts for the baby are gold rings and other jewelry, though not to be worn. These were seen as currency and used to pay for the child’s needs and education. Common gifts today are cash, clothing, and toys. Some families may rent a banquet hall for this large and happy occasion because housing tends to be small and space tight.
Besides the dol, other celebrations that are smaller also occur. Traditionally, female family members pray to Sanshin and Samshin on the day of birth, 3-7 days after birth, and 100 days after birth. This was in thanks to the mountain god and birth god and for the baby’s long and healthy life.
Welcoming new life into the world is always a cause for celebration. Some do so before the birth, giving gifts in preparation for the new baby. Others, like Koreans, tend to wait until afterwards, not wanting to get their hopes up or tempt bad luck. Either way, there is much joy and happiness shared among family and friends.
On the 21st day (saei-rye), family members prayed for the recovery of the mother, a small, simple, and intimate affair. The baby’s 100th day (baek-il) is celebrated with family and friends, who get to see the family’s new addition for the first time. Gifts for the baby may also be given at this time.
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