The first birthday of a child in Korea is known as “dol” and is very special. In the past, a child was not seen by anyone other than his family for the first 100 days of his life. This was because of high child-mortality rates. Therefore, the dol is an important milestone and marks the first time for friends and family to celebrate. There are a number of traditional presents to give.
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Gold is a precious gift to give on a first birthday. The metal is a sign of good health and fortune in Korean culture. It is believed to bring prosperity and a long life to any baby who receives it. Traditionally, a 24-karat gold ring is given on a first birthday. Small rings are available to buy throughout South Korea specifically for this celebration. Gold rings were used as currency in the past and used to pay for a child’s education. In modern times, a gold ring is kept until a child grows up and is cashed in for money to pay for her education.
Although Western countries see the gift of money as impersonal, in Korea, it’s acceptable to give it as a gift. It is an alternative if you can’t afford a gold ring but still want to give a gift that signifies prosperity and longevity. The money is given to the parents on the birthday for safekeeping. Money collected from friends and family usually is spent later for education.
On her first birthday, a child follows tradition by being dressed in bright clothing, quilted socks and hat. Parents welcome clothes as a practical gift. Appropriate clothing to give may include long robes and dresses in bright colors, a bokkeon (hat), tosu (wrist covers) and pastel-colored outfits. Traditional clothing has a child’s name and symbols hand-sewn onto the fabric.
Dol Ceremony Items
During the dol, a variety of items are placed on a ceremonial table. These include thread, books, rice, scissors and a pencil. Friends and family watch as a child reaches for an item. Whichever item he reaches for is supposed to predict his future. For example, reaching for a book signifies he will be a scholar, a thread means long life, and a pair of scissors symbolizes talented hands. These ceremonial items can be given as a birthday gift so guests can participate in helping a child choose his future.