First birthdays are a really big deal in Korea. In the past with lack of medical information, Korea's seasonal temperature, and many childhood related diseases, the death rate of children was really high. Many children died before their first birthday. After the age of one year, the survival rate increased greatly, making this milestone a very happy one for the child's parents. It is also a custom to celebrate a child's 100 day birthday but in most areas, it is smaller in scale compared to the Tol.
The Traditional Tol Celebration consists of 4 parts:
1. Praying and Giving Thanks
2. Making and Wearing the Birthday Clothes
3. Preparing the Table and Performing the Toljabee
4. Sharing the Food with Guests and Neighbors
In this event, the birthday child goes around the table and picks up items that attract him or her. The child's future is predicted according to the what he or she grabs. After placing the child in front of the table, the child's father becomes the guide for the child to go around the table and grab whatever he or she wants. The first and second items the child grabs are considered the most important. Usually Korean parents place the items that they want the child to choose near to the edge of the table. The child's future is predicted according to the items:
-bow and arrow: the child will become a warrior
-needle and thread: the child will live long
-jujube: the child will have many descendants
-book, pencil, or related items: the child will become a successful scholar
-rice or rice cake: the child will become rich (some resources say choosing a rice cake means the child is not smart)
-ruler, needle, scissors: the child will be talented with his/her hands
-knife: the child will be a good cook
After the Toljabee, the parents share most of the Tol food with the guests and relatives. It is a Korean custom that when the guests and neighbors receive the food they say kind words and wish for the child's longevity and good fortune. They also give presents such as a gold ring, clothes, or toys.
Each food type and other items on the table have specific meanings.
-paekseolgi (white steamed rice cakes) symbolize a pure and divine clean spirit and longevity.
-susu-kyongdan (rice cakes coated with rough red bean powder) are used to ward off evil spirits so that the child can grow without any disease. (Koreans believed that evil dislikes red color.) Koreans believed that if they prepared these two rice cakes for each birthday until 10 years old, the child would not fall down and would grow healthy.
-injulmi (sticky rice cakes) and chal-ddeok (sticky rice cakes) are prepared to wish the child to be tenacious and strong due to the stickiness of the rice cakes.
-songp'yeon (stuffed rice cakes shaped like a half-moon) Two different moon cakes are prepared. One is left empty and the other one filled. The empty moon cake means the child will grow with a big heart. The filled one means to grow to be wise.
-jujubes and fruit are for the child's descendants to multiply and prosper
-noodles and thread represent a long life
When Koreans are invited to the first birthday of a child, they often present a gold ring to the parents. Friends and colleagues collect money to buy a gold ring. However, the rings are not for the child to wear. Instead, the parents use them later to pay for child's education or other needs.
We're two days away from Zoe's first birthday. We pray (not to a mountain god, but to our Lord) that she has a great birthday in Korea. We pray that she is home soon. Never in a million years would we have ever thought that we would have a child who wasn't at home to celebrate their first birthday. However, we are confident that God will have her home in His perfect timing. We will celebrate with traditional Korean food and some birthday cake. We pray that on the other side of the world, that she feel God's love on her special day! Hold on baby girl, we're coming! We may be apart on your first birthday, but we'll be together for many birthdays to come!