돌잡이 ~ the “grabbing game” at first birthday parties

That a Korean child’s first birthday is something special for family and relatives is no secret, but there are several traditions associated with this day that we do not necessarily have variations of in other corners of the world. Many Korean learners and tourists have heard about the tradition of giving the child a gold ring, but how many have heard of the “first birthday grab” game?

The word 돌잡이 comes from two words:

돌 ~ first birthday
잡이 ~ preference

The idea is that a number of items/gifts are put in front of the child, and the item the child chooses first will say something about the life path that lies ahead of the child.

Traditionally three things have been among the possibilities with the following interpretations:
Money ~ wealth
A pencil ~ cleverness
A piece of string ~ long life

As life has evolved in Korea, so has the aspirations of parents for their children and some add some items to the pool:

Rice ~ Not going hungry
A stethoscope ~ a future as a doctor
A microphone ~ a future as a celebrity

I thought not going hungry would be related to money? In Denmark, though, we have a different interpretation of rice since we “rice” (throw rice on) newly weds as a symbol of fertility.
The stethoscope and the microphone puzzle me a bit. Would it be “trading down” if the child became a lawyer or biochemist?

I’m not sure I would wish a celebrity status for my children. Never being able to go anywhere – even grocery shopping – without people going wide-eyed and taking pictures on their camera phone. Maybe even needing personal security because of stalkers?
I thank my lucky star that I grew up in the age before smart phones since I would probably never have forgiven anyone who snapped a picture of me e.g. looking all sticky and traumatised after a camel sneezed on me at age four – yes it really happened and I’m still grateful my father would allow me into the car afterwards. FYI the camel lost its status as my favorite animal for a while after that even without pictures to remind me of the event.

Anyway, I think 돌잡이 is a fun tradition, and I never heard of it before today 🙂

My language partner picked the pencil and I suppose you can say she fulfilled the cleverness quota by going to one of the SKYE universities 😉

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