At one year, South Korean babies get gilded parties

Thu Jan 9, 2014 4:59am EST
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By Narae Kim and Michelle Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - It takes a lot more than a cake and a song to celebrate a baby's first birthday in South Korea, where in the past disease and starvation claimed so many lives that the completion of an infant's first year was a major milestone.

The first birthday, or "doljanchi", is now an event where affluent parents in one of the world's richest countries flaunt their wealth, connections and even their offspring's gilded career prospects at lavish parties.

At one party in Apgujeong, dubbed the Beverly Hills of Seoul, one-year-old Dot-byul peered down at a tray of items symbolizing various professions - including a stethoscope for a doctor, a judge's gavel and a microphone.

Dressed in a white princess gown with every moment captured by a professional photographer, she paused for a gurgle and then wrapped her tiny hands around a golf ball, in a gesture seen as signifying that she will grow up to be a golfer.

"We can hold low-key celebrations for her second, third and future birthdays, but for the very first I wanted to throw this party to show Dot-byul that everyone came here today to bless her," said her mother Kim Jae-yeon, whose husband runs an information technology business.

The trappings of Dot-byul's party were typical.

A slide show and a decorated "photo table" with framed pictures chronicled her young life. Another table, adorned with flowers and candles, featured a three-tier cake.

Guests gave packets of money, as they would at a wedding, and received gift bags packaged with the baby's picture and boxes of tea.   Continued...

Frames of Kim Dot-byul's pictures are displayed during her first birthday party or Doljanchi in Korean in Seoul December 14, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji