Josiah’s Doljanchi (Traditional Korean First Birthday Celebration)

The older I get, the more I am learning how to appreciate and truly enjoy my Korean heritage.  Two factors also help – the fact that I married a guy who was born and raised in South Korea and…my very, VERY Korean grandmother. 🙂  For those of you with a Korean g-ma, you know what I’m talking about!

Anywho, last month was our little boy’s first birthday!  And I spent weeks and weeks waist-high in glitter, hot glue guns, polyester filling, and beans.  But it was completely worth it.  You’ll see what I mean below.

The first birthday is a very big deal in Korean traditional culture.  Just a couple generation’s ago, the infant mortality rate was fairly high and many babies did not make it to their first birthday.  Thus, if a baby did make it to one, the family usually had a big celebration (called “doljanchi“) because this usually meant that the child would live to see adulthood.

Although the infant mortality rate has decreased over the years, the tradition of throwing a big celebration for the first birthday still stands (and even more so for first-born children).

This birthday was especially meaningful for us as first-time parents because of all we have gone through with Josiah since his birth.  Quite frankly, he may not have lived to see his first birthday.

But this past year has truly been a year filled with miracles.

And somehow, in the midst of throwing a big birthday party, I so much wanted to capture the spirit of those miracles.  In every detail, in every moment, I wanted to testify of how beautifully God has led us from one miracle to the next with this sweet son of ours.

We also wanted to celebrate with all those who have been faithfully praying for our family this past year.  We ended up having two birthday celebrations – one with our local friends and another with our church family (who are all about an hour east of where we live).  The pictures below are from the “doljanchi” at our church.

The best I could think of to capture the theme of “miracles and wonder” was lots of white and gold (gold stars, glitter details, and white, fluffy clouds).

The glittery “ONE” letters I made following this method here (the letters themselves were from Hobby Lobby here).  A friend of mine made the “dolgoim” to the left (the tower made out of little beans that spells out “first birthday” in Korean), and I made the one to the right (spelling out Josiah’s Korean name).  These towers are another traditional element of the “doljanchi.”  Let me tell you, though, spending hours and hours hot gluing each little bean onto a giant paper towel roll…only a mother’s love (or perhaps her OCD tendencies 🙂 ) could do that.

Also, that GORGEOUS cake was entirely hand-made by the choir director at our church.  I just about swooned when she walked in.  She spent over 12 hours making that precious cake!  Now THAT is my kind of love, all wrapped up in buttercream edible flowers.

We were so very blessed to have my in-laws fly in from Korea.  They brought with them “hanbok” (traditional Korean clothing) for Josiah and me to wear.  Thankfully, Josiah had just woken up from a nice long nap and was, therefore, relatively happy during the celebration.  We also had a special time of prayer for Josiah.  Those prayers are ones that I will treasure in my heart and mind for years to come.

The next part is a big highlight of the “doljanchi” called the “doljabi.”  Basically, there are a few items placed in front of the child, all signifying various careers or lifestyles of a prosperous future.  Whichever one the child first grabs is the one that he or she will fulfill.

We decided to go with objects that would symbolize various men of the Bible (e.g. a fishing rod for Peter, a guitar for King David, a sword for Joshua, etc.).  Guess which one Josiah picked?

You can tell in the bigger picture…Josiah picked the guitar (symbolizing King David)!  He actually picked the same object at both parties (even though I strategically placed it at the far end the second time around haha!).  Well, I guess we are going to have a little worshiper, warrior-King on our hands in the future.  Amen to that!

Of course, no birthday is complete without singing “Happy Birthday!” and blowing out a candle (and in Josiah’s case, trying to do an impromptu cake smashing).

By the end of the day he was like…


And we were like…


Okay, just look at his expression.  He’s already doing the, “Mom!  Dad!  Stop it…you’re embarrassing me in front of everyone!”  Bahahaha kid, you have no idea.  This is JUST the beginning.

And it truly is that – just the beginning.  Although this first year has been absolutely wonderful and joyous and heart-wrenching and difficult all at the same time, we know that there are so many greater things in store for us.

And as a family, we know that we can face whatever comes our way because (and only because) we love and serve a miracle-working God.

So, here’s to another wondrous year of your life, sweet son.  The best is yet to come.


4 thoughts on “Josiah’s Doljanchi (Traditional Korean First Birthday Celebration)

  1. Catherine Wade says:

    So happy for all three of you. What an amazing 1st Birthday this son of yours had. I am so happy that you take the time to share your family with us through your blog. Lots of love and blessings to you all this Christmas season.


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