In South Korean culture, it is tradition for the 1st birthday to be celebrated. This celebration is called 돌잔지 (doljanchi) which translates to birthday feast. At this celebration it is all typical that they do a certain type of picking ceremony called 돌잡이 (doljabi). The informant talks about her experience of seeing her baby cousin’s 1st birthday and what she recalls from her siblings.
Informant: “For the celebration or you know the game what they’ll do is they’ll put a bunch of objects in front of the baby usually like what I see, and it’s like people can do whatever they want really like they could add in their own little things and personalize it, but usually there’s things like a pencil, money, maybe a ball, an apple. Then there can be anything else like I’ve seen maybe stethoscope and stuff like that but then like each one symbolizes a certain thing. I don’t know if traditionally there’s like a set of things..”
Collector (raises hand): “What does apple symbolize?”
Informant: “I’m pretty sure apple symbolizes health I think and ball is athlete and is the pencil I think it’s writer. I feel like these aren’t really like set in stone or anything but you can like put whatever you want and like have it mean whatever you want kind of. I don’t know if there’s like an original set of items if that makes sense but yeah. And then like you’ll set the baby down in front of all the items and they just like crawl and choose one and that’s like their future. I saw my cousin’s baby do it like two years ago and she chose the apple. She was hungry because she just chose it and started eating but I think when [her younger brother] had his, he chose money.”
Collector: “Is there any other traditions that happen at the birthday?”
Informant: “I don’t really know why but usually the babies will wear like a hanbok (한복) like the traditional dress to their first birthday party or like all the pictures or videos I’ve seen where like the babies are grabbing the items they are wearing a hanbok.”
I think this birthday celebration of the first year of life symbolizes how important babies and their futures can be to South Koreans, and that they can be very career and future-oriented. According to the informant, this is a type of rites of passage ceremony in which everyone in their family has been through and they themselves said they would like to continue it. I think the celebration could also show that they believe in free will and maybe being destined to do something since they lay the objects in front of the baby and let them choose although, of course, the babies have no idea what each object symbolizes. Therefore, it seems like the choice is unprovoked and not challenged as compared to if an adult would choose their career they would take into account many different factors.