Korea’s First Birthday Tradition, Dol-jabi

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: Early 50s
Occupation: Housewife
Residence: South Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 17
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

This is a translation from a conversation with my mom about first birthday traditions in Korea. She is identified here as M and I am identified as IC.

IC: Can you tell me about Dol-jabi?

M: Dol-jabi is a tradition where you get the baby to grab something on their first birthday to predict their future. Like, they’ll become this kind of person or become someone who likes this. This has been a tradition for a very long time. First birthdays were a big deal in Korea because there weren’t many babies who lived past their first birthday due to the harsh, poor conditions of living many families faced. So, the first birthday Dol-jabi was celebrating the baby for living a whole year and predicting their future.

For you and your brother I placed a ball of thread, money, pencil and rice-cake.

Thread means that you’ll live a long life because the thread won’t snap. Money means you’ll become rich and pencil means that you’ll study well. Rice-cake means that you will grow up not worrying about food.

IC: What did my brother grab?

M: Your brother grabbed money and pencil. Normally, you grab one and it’s done but I waited for one more, because why not?

IC: Do you remember which one my brother grabbed first?

M: I think he got money first.

IC: What about me?

M: You grabbed thread first and then money. But nowadays, that has changed and parents will put a lawyer’s gavel, stethoscope, microphone and other various things to predict specific jobs since a pencil is vague.

IC: What I find fascinating about this is that a one-year-old baby don’t know anything, and they just grab something out of curiosity, but adults will look and be like ‘yay, our kid will become a doctor!’ It’s fun, but in a way also strange.

M: Yeah, that’s true but it’s just fun and traditional. That’s why we do it.

Background:

In Korean tradition, first birthdays are important and and dol-jabi is a traditional Korean activity. It can be somewhat translated to an occupational reveal activity since it is more specific to types of occupations now. But this translation would have been inaccurate during my generation and older as it wasn’t specific to an occupation.

Context:

This was collected in an interview with my mom in a casual setting.  I had remembered about my mom telling me about this tradition and thought it would be an interesting collection for this project.

Thoughts:

I think this tradition was supposed to be something fun for the parents and relatives to predict their child’s future. Because it used to be broad and related to general success in life, it was a casual activity. The kind of activities they place now has changed and I kind of feel a generational difference. With my generation the meaning of items were broad but now it’s specific to jobs and it’s more likely that it won’t be accurate.