Last saturday, my friend Razel’s son celebrated his first birthday. For koreans, there are only two important birthdays that they celebrate in a big way. The first one is called “(jeot) dol” which is the very first and the other one is “hwangap” which is the 61st (or 60th biologically). These are usually held in buffet restaurants or wedding halls (where weddings are also held).
Razel is the first pinay i met here in korea. She lives in Ilsan, Goyang City which is more than an hour from where I live by subway. Although the venue is a little bit far, I still made it a point to attend since it’s a really important occasion.
Johnny’s (English name) first birthday was held in a big buffet restaurant on the eight floor of a ten-storey building (five floors of which are buffet restaurants). His was not the only celebration that evening. There were more than ten babies having their dol on that floor. I arrived at the party 15 minutes after the designated time. There was a reception area where you tell the ladies behind the table whose party you’re attending. They will give a colored sticker identifying your host/s. The floor was divided in several areas. The tables for dining were arranged on the side while there is a big table, sort of like an altar, on the far center where traditional rice cakes are placed.
When I came in, there were less than ten people. The guests were just starting to arrive: Razel’s husband’s korean friends, her Filipina friends and Caucasian co-workers. Razel and her children (a pre-schooler girl and the baby boy) were wearing hanbok or the traditional korean gowns while her husband was in a suit. After greeting my friends who came before me, I went straight to the buffet tables. There was quite a long line to where the sushi (chobap in korean) were. There were different kinds of food to satisfy every palate. I went straight to where the meats and sweets were. I went for a second round to get some pasta and “hobak juk” (pumpkin soup).
There is a small ceremony for “dol” celebration. A small table containing ribbons, money and pencil is placed in front of the baby. Then the baby would then pick-up one of the three items. If he chose the ribbon (or thread) it means long life for him. If he chose money it means that he’s going to be rich while pencil means he will be scholarly. Everybody was delighted when Johnny picked the money. hehehe…
Unlike in the Philippines where I’d probably give the celebrator something I bought from the mall, here in Korea money is given as gifts. The money (usually 30,000 to 50,000 won depending on your relationship with the host) is placed in a white piece of envelope with both the receiver and giver’s names written outside. It is a common practice in Korea to take note of how much is given to a celebrator, whether in a birthday or wedding, so that the same amount is expected when it is the giver’s turn to receive. Only in korea 🙂