Korean 1st Birthday-Dohl

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

My daughter's hanbok from her 1st birthday. Photographer: Stephanie Secrest

Lately, we've been getting a lot of inquiries about Korean 1st birthday celebrations. My first reaction is that of excitement that people still want to incorporate and honor their roots for their children's 1st birthday party. My second reaction is that of slight anxiety. Even though I am of Korean descent, I grew up most of my life in the States so I definitely identify more with being American than Korean for sure. Thus, although we personally had a dohl for our first daughter with doljabi and everything (I'll explain this later), I still feel like I don't know enough about the concept of dohl to be able to fully explain all the symbolisms etc.

That's when I turned to my parents. My father, sent me a comprehensive video via Kakao Talk (see I'm Korean!) about this lady who specializes in dohl celebrations in Korea. Btw, Kakao Talk is South Korea's most popular messaging platform, so that fact that I even have it installed on my phone makes me feel slightly more Korean.

I have been scouring Instagram, You Tube, and the internet as a whole to gather as much information as possible about dohl and what a dohl celebration entails. In a nutshell, there are two major components of dohl party.

The Dohl Table:

An example of what a traditional dohl table used to look like

Not to bore you with history but back when Korean was a super poor country, death rates for babies were very high. So it was a big deal for children to make it to their 1st birthday. So to give thanks, the whole village would come together to for a child's first birthday-apparently it was a pretty big deal. The main table would be filled to the brim with rice cakes, fruit, and other celebratory foods to symbolize abundance and prosperity.


The second major component of a Korean 1st birthday is the doljabi. This is where objects are placed in front of the birthday boy/girl for them to choose. Each object represents something and was believed to predict the future of the baby. Things such as string (long life), money (wealth), pencil (academia/writer), paint brush (artist), and rice (abundance of food) were common objects that were used.

Fun fact: my parents casually had 100 dollar bills in their wallet

In modern times, people have added things such as a camera, stethoscope, and athletic equipment into the mix. Below, you will see that Alina, our eldest daughter chose a pencil. Until I dug up this picture, I had forgotten what Alina chose 9 years ago! I have to say that this was eerily accurate since Alina is really into writing and loves learning.

Alina chose a pencil!

During my research, I have found so many beautiful ways to style a modern dohl celebration! Dohl parties are huge in L.A. since there is a large Korean population down there. I have seen many ways people have executed it. The trend now is to have a modern theme (not a traditional dohl table) with touches of Korean elements. But most people for sure include a doljabi as part of the dohl celebration.

Before I end this entry, I have to admit something. I never had a doljabi for my younger daughter. She is five years old now. Should I do one tonight to see what she chooses? Better late than never right?