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First Korean Birthday

Four days after my own birthday, I celebrated my baby’s birthday. However, I had been planning for his big day for months. For many Koreans, the first birthday is a big deal. Historically, if babies survived to their first birthdays, it was a call for joyful celebration since not many made it through that precarious first year. Today, surviving infancy isn’t an issue anymore, but the tradition lives on to celebrate the ‘doljanchi’ (first birthday) with gusto.

First and foremost, we got our baby dressed up in his hanbok, which is a traditional Korean outfit, and took some professional photos a few weeks before the big day. I too wore a hanbok on my first birthday, which my mother saved and passed on to me. For my son, we chose a purple hanbok, with beautiful hand-detailed embroidery.

My folks and I circa 1986

Another tradition of first birthdays is the doljabi, which is a time to bless the child’s future and predict what lies ahead for them. It is purely for fun, and not taken seriously in our home, however it’s a still an entertaining part of first birthdays. A number of career-minded items are laid in front of the baby, which they then choose. We chose to put a string – for long life, a mouse – for technology, a maraca – for music, a pencil – for academics, a stethoscope – for medicine, money – for wealth, and lastly, a ball – for athlete. So what did he choose?

Well for the first round, he chose string – for long life! This is always a comforting choice for parents. We let him choose a second time so we could determine what he will do with his long life.

Long life!

And for the second choice. He went for the same thing my older son chose at his first birthday. A ball! Oh boy, I’m going to have a bunch of athletes on hand. Cue the HUGE grocery bill.

He chose the ball!

We had the birthday party catered with over 20 Korean dishes from a place in North York, Toronto. Of course, we all dug in before I remembered to take a photo of it all. As a parting gift to guests, we gave out custom made dduk, which is sweet rice cake. Dduk is a staple of most Korean festivities and events. We had about 6 different varieties including pumpkin dduk, red bean dduk, and plain white rice dduk. The birthday boy enjoyed a few pieces of dduk as well as a slice of cake, which did not disappoint. I purchased the limencello cake from Costco, and the birthday banner (in lieu of candles) from the dollar store. Clearly, they didn’t spell-check, but it made for a good laugh.

White Rice Cake as party favors

YUM cake.


Putting the DIY into Birthday!

All in all, I’m happy with how the birthday party turned out, and grateful for the family and local friends who joined us. However, if you’re thinking of throwing a similar soiree, you might want to consider hosting at an actual restaurant. Most first birthdays are hosted at Korean restaurants, which are well equipped for large parties. There were a few things that went wrong such as some wrong items of food being delivered, or my donut cake not having enough donuts. I may have had a mini meltdown when I discovered there were only 10 donuts in my 20 donut box. But that’s what husbands are for. I sent him out to pick up the remaining donuts and other missing items (plates, cutlery, etc) as I regained my composure and put together my signature party drink (lemonade with mint and lavender sprigs). I may or may not have mixed my glass with a bit of prosecco. Cheers to my baby (and I) getting another year older!

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