Sunday, May 2, 2010

First Birthday Party

Keegan and I had a new Korean cultural experience today when we went to a first birthday party for the daughter of one of Keegan's co-workers at the shipyard. We were the only foreigners there, so we tried to be on our best behavior and fit in, although of course we didn't. We were the only ones to bring a gift, and we brought a really cute blue sweatsuit because Keegan had thought that the child was a boy. Oops. Fortunately, I don't think blue and pink are so rigidly defined as boy and girl colors in Korea, so maybe we can play that one off.

When we arrived at the banquet hall, they had a table set up outside the door with some adorable photo studio pictures of the little girl, mostly wearing silly hats with ears on them. We are so going to subject our daughter to this type of photography because it will help her to have a connection to her birth country someday when she looks at the embarrassing photos we took of her. Also on the table were a number of little glass cups, each labeled with a different object, such as "pencil," "money," "string," or "golf ball." These cups had to do with a ceremony that is typical at Korean first birthday parties called doljabi. During the ceremony, the baby is given a choice of several different objects, and the one that she picks determines what her future will be. For example, if she picks up the pencil, she will be a scholar. If she chooses the money, she will be wealthy. If she chooses the string, she will have a long life. The cups on the table were chances for the guests to bet on what the baby would pick. Each guest got a ticket and then put his or her numbered ticket stub into the cup labeled with the object he or she wanted to bet on. I chose the pencil, and Keegan bet on the microphone.

Inside the banquet room, there was an elaborate display set up in front of all the tables, featuring a three-layered cake with a swordlike knife hanging over it, huge pink dolphin balloons, and lots of flowers and candles. Each table had a small grill on it, and all the guests helped themselves to the buffet, where we could pick from several kinds of raw meat and seafood to cook on our grills, as well as a lot of side dishes and fruit and salad.

After lunch, an announcer came to the front of the room and introduced Mr. Kim and his wife and little girl. The little girl was adorable and was wearing a really flashy long white dress with all kinds of gold trim on it. The stood at the front of the room and lit a big candle on top of the cake. The candle was shaped like a lotus flower and blazed with quite a large flame. We all sang "Happy Birthday" (in Korean), and then Mr. Kim blew out the candle. Afterwards, Mom and Dad cut the cake together with the huge, swordlike knife, and then the emcee asked someone to get up and give a toast. Well, it turned out that Keegan was the one everyone wanted to say a few words. Talk about a surprise! Fortunately, Keegan handled the situation with his typical grace and charm, and he received a gift of two scented candles for his effort. After a few more toasts, the emcee led the guests in some other little games, which were lost on us, although I think one may have involved guessing the number of teeth the baby had (can one-year-olds have eight teeth already?). Finally it was time for the doljabi ceremony.

The emcee brought out a tray with several objects laid out on it, and guests were invited to contribute some money to lay out for the baby as well. All during the build up to the ceremony the little girl was reaching towards the tray for the objects, and when the big moment came, she picked up the pencil! Afterwards, they asked her to pick a second object (for daddy, I guess), and she chose the golf ball. Since these were precisely the objects her parents had wanted her to pick, Keegan and I suspected that some "training" had gone on before the big day. The whole ceremony was really cute.

As soon as the festivities were over, everyone headed out with characteristic Korean efficiency. We all received a small party favor, which consisted of a pretty glass plate and a pair of chopsticks. I thought it was a very nice party, and I enjoyed seeing a new Korean tradition.

1 comment:

Mom said...

It sounds like a cool experience for both of you. I'm not surprised that Keegan did well with his toast. He is definitely a master of social graces. Actually, they do things like the doljabi in this country. My parents put several things in front of me on my first birthday. I can't remember all of them, but one was a bottle (if the baby chooses that he or she will become an alcoholic - how distressing!), a book, and perhaps money. My mother said I chose the book. I'm sure you are gasping in surprise at that. And yes, some babies do have 8 teeth at a year old. Not all are dentally challenged like you were :)