Monday, November 9, 2009

Doljanchi Party

On Sunday, my housemate Jinsuk (I call her Unni, which means big sister) invited me to accompany her to a friends' Doljanchi party. This is an elaborate party Koreans throw for a baby's first birthday. There are many traditions involved. This party was held in a banquet hall at one of the ritzier downtown hotels. The whole room was decorated beautifully in pink and silver, with a dais at the front on which the baby was seated, surrounded by presents and toys, dressed in a froofy pink tafeta dress. Her mom was dressed to match.

I had never met the couple before, so I felt a little embarrassed to be there, especially since we got to partake of the mile-long buffet of gourmet food. This buffet had every imaginable kind of sushi, dimsum, salad, western-style buffet food, soups, etc. It just kept going on and on and on....

By the time we sat down to eat the party was about to start. An emcee directed the festivities from the front. First we watched a very cute, professionally-made video presentation of young Su-Hyun's life so far. It was clear from watching this that she had two very doting parents and all the cutest clothes and toys money could buy. While we watched, Su-Hyun went through a costume change and came back out wearing a baby hanbok (Korean traditional outfit). She was held in her father's arms at the front dais while each of her parents made speeches to her.

Then it was time for the traditional doljabi, when a tray of various items (a book, a pen, a bowl of rice, toy money, etc.) is placed in front of the baby, and whichever item the baby grabs first signifies what sort of life he/she will have. Su-Hyun chose the brush, which signifies that she will be a good student (of course her parents helpfully prodded her in the right direction).

Then the two grandmothers came up and gave speeches, followed by the two grandfathers, one of whom sang a traditional song in a soulful, quavering voice. He seemed to really be working the crowd. After that, they began to give out presents to the guests. There weren't enough presents for everyone, so we each had raffle tickets and they called out numbers. Then, when they got down to the last few presents, they started giving them to specific categories of people, like the youngest, the oldest, the person who had known the couple the longest, etc.

When they got to the final present, the emcee said, "Let's give this one to the person who has come from the farthest away!" Various people started shouting out "I'm from Daegu!" "I came from Pusan!" I tried to shrink down in my seat, but Unni grabbed my hand and shouted, "This one's from Japan!" I shook my head vehemently, but the emcee was already headed our way. He thrust the microphone at me, and I had no choice but to stand up. I stuttered, "I'm an American but I live in Seoul now." They insisted I should take the last present anyway. So I walked up, very embarrassed now, bowed low and accepted a package from the parents, whom I had just met an hour ago. It turned out to be a bathtowel with the words "Su-Hyun's 1st Birthday" embroidered on it in English.

After that the party wrapped up quickly. The whole thing took about 1 hour. I had heard that Korean weddings are typically over in half an hour, and it seems they have the same philosophy about Doljanchi ceremonies. I was really grateful to Unni for taking me along, as I had learned about Doljanchi before but never had a chance to see one.


  1. Can you remember what restaurant this was held at?

  2. Hi MrsKimchi,
    It was actually at one of the big hotels downtown - I don't recall which one.