For Korean Birthdays, 1st Candle Is Brightest

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For Korean Birthdays, 1st Candle Is Brightest

For families all over the world, the first birthday of a baby is a big day, and Koreans are no exception.

At one time, the celebration focused on whether the child had survived the first year. For dol, the first birthday, Korean parents usually throw a huge party (dol-janchi) to which they invite friends, relatives and even acquaintances.

But even traditions are not immune to fashion, and the latest trend has Korean moms trying to make that special day as special as possible with modernized games.

Last month, Son Mi-ran held a first birthday party for her son, Ho-yeong. On the day, Ho-yeong's family did not dress up as most Korean families would on such an occasion. Instead of wearing formal suits or hanbok, Korean traditional clothes, they relaxed in T-shirts with a picture of Ho-yeong on the front.

"It is no fun at all to put on formal wear on a hot summer's day," Mrs. Son said. "We thought that it would be wiser to put on simple shirts and have a pleasant time than to dress up and feel uncomfortable all the while."

She also decorated a big bulletin board with pictures of Ho-yeong and an old picture of Ho-yeong's dad on his first birthday. She placed the board at the entrance of the party hall so the guests could share the family's memories.

The highlight of the day's events came when Ho-yeong participated in a popular Korean tradition. Family members laid items in front of the child, such as a thread, pencil and money, and Ho-yeong was encouraged to pick one. Each item supposedly told Ho-yeong about his future.

Thread, for instance, symbolized longevity, whereas a pencil stood for a scholarly calling and money for wealth. But Ho-yeong was given some options. In addition to the traditional items, he was presented with a ball, for an athletic career, and a computer mouse, for a future in telecommunications.

In another departure from tradition, the party organizer came up with a game in which party guests made guesses on which item the birthday boy would choose.

The guests waited with much interest until Ho-yeong grabbed the ball. The winning guests received gift certificates.

Giving a special dol-janchi is so popular that the Internet now offers many sites that provide information on it, including ordering invitation cards and finding the right catering service.

Some enthusiastic moms surf the Web for hours, visiting such sites as Haeorum (, a portal baby care site, to get ideas for their own parties and to share their experiences on the subject.

Another noticeable change in such parties is that hosts are paying more attention to their guests' comfort. When Park Ji-hyeon hosted a first birthday party for her son recently, she prepared name cards for her guests and arranged them on tables so that her guests did not end up sitting with strangers

by Park Hye-min

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