Turning 1 in Korea the Traditional Way

To celebrate an American friend’s birthday, I decided to turn things a little Korean and celebrate it as a traditional first birthday. After all, it may not have been his first birthday, but it was his first birthday in Korea.

A typical Korean’s tol (first birthday) includes an abundance of food, plenty of prayers, and a gathering of friends. However, the highlight of the party is the gift-choosing tradition. This is what I wanted to recreate for my friend’s birthday because I think it’s the most curious birthday custom. A display of presents is laid out for the child to choose just two things, and these chosen presents are significant because it is believed that they forecast the future of the little baby.

Traditionally, gifts like a bow and arrow, pencil, ruler, money, and string are presented. Choosing a bow and arrow set means the child will be brave. A pencil, the child will become a doctor or teacher. A ruler, good hand skills. Money, wealth. String, a long life.

I included a few non-traditional items just for fun. The bow and arrow transformed into a superhero watch (still brave). A bottle opener either meant a good chef, or an alcoholic as some of the others at the party decided. A ball for athletic. A selection of toy cars for a mail delivery man, bus driver, and ambulance driver, respectively. A comic book for good humour. A light bulb for creativity.

Without knowing the meanings of the random gifts on the table, my friend carefully selected the ball and the superhero watch. We shall see if he does become an athletic, brave man in the future (or was this 23 years too late?).

the birthday boy with his almost-traditional birthday presents

the birthday boy with his almost-traditional birthday presents

On her first birthday, my friend at work, Ms. Heo, chose the pencil and the string, and she actually did become a teacher. We’re still waiting on the long life part, hoping the prediction will be true.

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