Korean gift-giving customs – Baby’s first birthday gifts

To the Koreans, a baby’s first birthday is an important event to celebrate and the parents hold a first birthday’s celebration party (돌잔치 – Doljanchi) inviting family members and friends to attend.  The reason for Doljanchi is that in the past when the people were poor and the medical technology was not so advanced, the infant mortality rate was high.  Therefore, having a baby surviving his/her first birthday became an event worth celebrating.   Even nowadays when the infant mortality rate has dropped significantly, this Doljanchi tradition still continues.

What do Koreans bring as gifts to Doljanchi?  The answer is: gold baby ring!

To the Koreans, gold symbolizes wealth and longevity and as Doljanchi is to celebrate the baby surviving his/her first birthday, gold rings are given as gifts to babies to wish them both longevity and prosperity.   Upon receiving the gold baby rings from the guests, the parents put them on the fingers of the baby.  Moreover, if necessary, gold rings can later be sold and turned into cash to pay for the baby’s education.

However, as the price of gold has increased significantly in recent years, instead of gold rings, Koreans give other items such as baby clothing and cash as gifts for Doljanchi.

As additional information, during the Doljanchi, there is an interesting ritual called Doljabi (돌잡이) which is used to foretell the baby’s future. The parents set out several objects like pencil, money, rice, thread, etc. on a table which is placed in front of the baby. Then, the parents urge the baby to grab one of the objects on the table. The object selected by the baby foretells his/her future, for example:

  • pencil – means that the baby will become a scholar;
  • money – means that the baby will become a rich person;
  • rice – means that the baby will have plenty of good food to eat and will never go hungry throughout his/her life; or
  • thread – means that the baby will live a long life.

Nowadays, because of the popularity of other occupations, other objects are also used for Doljabi, for example:

  • microphone (means that the baby will become an entertainer);
  • stethoscope (means that the baby will become a doctor); and
  • mallet (means that the baby will become a judge).

 

Reminder: The next post will be published on 19 December 2014.  Watch this space!

References:

이해영, 김은영, 신경선, 주은경, 이정란, 이현의,  《생활 속 한국 문화77》, 서울: 랭기지플러스<한글파크>, 2011, 104-105, 142-143쪽

Su Hyun Lee, “As gold prices soar, a Korean custom suffers“, The New York Times, 2008-02-28

 

28 thoughts on “Korean gift-giving customs – Baby’s first birthday gifts

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  5. I will be having this for my son, soon. He is half-Korean. I hadn’t realized how costly is was, from decorations and such, to food. And there’s the cake, as well. And the most important thing, in my opinion, the Hanbok.

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