The dol, or doljanchi, is the celebration of a first birthday in the Korean culture. The term dol itself is a generic term for “birthday” but it is most commonly used to describe the first birthday.
Many years ago in Korea, infant mortality rates were high but after the age of one, the survival rate drastically increased and the first birthday became a highly celebrated milestone. It is customary to also celebrate the 100th day birthday (baek-il) but the event is typically smaller in scale.
Traditionally, the major components of the celebration were prayer and giving thanks, the child's traditional birthday attire (dol bok), the dol head table (dol sang), the fortune-telling ritual (doljabi), and the sharing of food. The modern dol is less Shamanistic but still incorporates many traditional aspects.
The traditional clothes are typically colorful and include a long belt (dol ddi) that wraps around the body twice for longevity and a pouch (jumuni) for luck. Also for longevity, the attire does not include buttons.
Dol Head Table (Dol Sang)
The table is usually adorned with various types of rice cakes (dduk), fruit, and dol towers, which represent the child's future accomplishments. Also, it is common to display a bowl of rice, a bowl of seaweed soup, and other various foods items. A traditional screen is often times displayed in the backdrop.
Fortune-Telling Ritual (Doljabi)
The fortune-telling ritual involves placing various items in front of the child. Each item symbolizes a specific future outcome and depending on which item the child chooses, his/her future. The items typically placed are money (wealth), thread (long life), rice (food – the child will not go hungry), and a pencil (scholar). In modern times, other items such as, a microphone (entertainer), a stethoscope (doctor) and a golf ball (athlete), have also been included with the items.
Sharing of Food
Upon completion of the doljabi, feasting, singing, and games ensue. Traditionally, gifts of money, clothes, or gold rings are also presented by guests to the child's parents at this time. At the end of the event, a package of rice cakes and other food items is shared with each guest to take home. The sharing of rice cakes is thought to bring longevity and happiness for the child.