Doljanchi, First Birthdays in Korea

January 12, 2014

My original plan when housesitting for friends in rural Korea had been to just take some time to enjoy the hot springs, build up my strength at the gym, and catch up on some writing assignments I had been too lazy to do over the holidays in Texas. I may still get around to some of those, but the friends I left behind in Uljin were suggesting activities left and right, even in the dead of winter. Obviously, we had to play catch up over a few dinners and I have a feeling a few noraebang sessions lie in my future.

However, one thing I didn’t anticipate was being invited to a Korean friend’s son’s first birthday celebration. Although I don’t have children, I had been curious about this my first time in Korea, when I considered purchasing the baby hanbok for my cousin’s kid in DC. Having the chance to view one without the awkwardness of not knowing the people made this a perfect cultural opportunity.

As with weddings in Korea, the ceremony itself is usually held in an official wedding or banquet hall. This one was in the basement of the Uljin Tourist Hotel, which just happened to have the most extravagant buffet in the region. Guests walk in to see a display with baby pictures, gifts, and a series of boxes with different objects written above them:

청진기 Stethoscope (doctor)
연필 Pencil (education)
실 String (long life)
판사봉 Gavel (judge)
마이크 Microphone (singer)
돈 Money (wealth)

Each person is supposed to drop their raffle ticket number into the box, wishing one of the bright futures for the baby. When the kid randomly chooses one of them during the ceremony, the parents draw one of the numbers and the winner gets a prize. I happened to win the prize for the person who travelled the farthest to be there, but for some strange reason the emcee misheard “Mexico” instead of “Texas”… eh, same distance to Korea.

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