Koreans have many unique traditions and customs that I’m still navigating through. One custom I’m still trying to figure out is how to calculate my Korean age. Oh, and how to speak Korean fluently… but for now let’s focus on my recent experience with the Doljanchi (돌잔치).
Korean age is actually a thing
Koreans start counting the baby’s age at the time of conception, which includes all of the months the baby spends in the womb. Babies are considered one years old at the time of birth and everyone born in that same year turns a year older on January first. For example, if you were born on December 31, 2017, you will be considered two years old on January 1, 2018.
Korea is the only country in the world that counts age this way. My Korean age is like two years older than my actual age since I’m a December baby. Yikes! I want to be young forever, so I always use my international age (my actual age).
What in the world is a Doljanchi?!
After the Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea, Korea was a very poor country with a high infant mortality rate. It was considered a miracle if children lived to see 100 days on earth (another custom that is still celebrated in Korea, called Baekil 백일), let alone live to experience a year here.
The Doljanchi is a celebration of the baby’s first year of life outside of the mother’s womb. Dol means first and janchi means fest or party. This is the only big birthday celebration Korean children will ever have, since birthdays are not really significant in their culture. The next big birthday for Koreans would be in their 70’s, if they live that long.
Family and close friends gather together for the first-year birthday celebration. The parents usually rent a party room with a buffet included. The parents and baby all wear matching Hanboks (traditional Korean attire) at the party. The baby is given a group of toys to choose from. Each toy represents a career path for the child. Since money is a huge deal here, the family usually wants the child to pick up the 50,000 won bill but that’s not usually want happens. I mean what’s money to a baby when they have cool toys to choose from.
My friend’s adorable son, Jasper was turning one and you can bet that I was going to be there by any means. Jasper is a half Chinese, half Korean ball of chunky smiling cuteness. I loves me some Jasper. Anyways, back to the party. At the beginning of the party, the guests ate from the buffet and took pictures with the birthday boy and parents.
I got there a little after the food and picture time. When I entered the party, a video was playing of pictures and min videos of Jasper’s first year. Another video documenting Jasper’s journey in his mommy’s womb followed shortly after.
The parents shared some words with the audience of family and close friends. The ceremony was all in Korean. So, I didn’t understand a lot of it. In short, the hosts from the venue gave a very entertaining dance performance. They also handed out prizes to the audience for different categories, like whose birthday was closest to Jasper’s. The kids at the party also had a dance contest, which was adorable. The guests put money in the collection plate for the birthday boy.
Then it was time for the choosing. He received items for entertainer, educator, wealth, etc. Jasper picked the old microphone, which meant he would be an entertainer. But his parents wanted him to choose something else and let him pick again. The next time he picked the writing tool, which indicated that he would study well. The party ended shortly after the selection was made.
I stayed to take pictures and enjoy the buffet. My friend and her family didn’t eat because of the party and we all talked and ate together after the party. The party was entertaining and light-hearted. I never thought a one-year olds’ birthday party could be such a blast until I experienced my first Doljanchi. If you ever get invited to one, you better go because it’s a memory that you will cherish.
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