Tol is a celebration of baby's first birthday in Korea. In the past medical care was not so developed and quite many children died of different diseases before their first birthday.

People started the Tol day with a prayer. For this occasion Koreans used to pray to Sanshin (the mountain god) and Samshin (the birth goddess).

Traditional Korean praying table
Traditional Korean praying table

Before the prayer people prepared a praying table. Special food was put on this table. Dishes cooked for the celebration are steamed white rice are “miyeok-guk” (sea mustard soup). A bowl of water was also put on the praying table. Next to the table Koreans put “samshin siru” (layered red bean rice cakes). This cakes should only be eaten by members of the family. Why? It’s believed that sharing such cakes with others would bring bad luck to the baby.

What’s next? Mother and grandmother would now, when everything on the praying was ready, start to pray to Sanshin and Samshin. They would do so by putting two hands together and rubbing palms of their hands. In prayers the women would wish long life of the baby, luck to Sanshin and show gratitude to Samshin. The prayer finished with bowing to Samshin.

Men were not allowed to participate in such prayers. Time of prayers differed from region to region. In Seoul women used to pray in early in the morning of baby’s birthday. In other regions prayers were organized in the night before the birthday. Such prayers are part of Shamanism.

Nowadays the Shamanism is rarely practised in Korea. So, the above mentioned birthday prayers are usually skipped.

Baby wearing tol-bok clothes

The baby which is a year old wears special colourful clothes called “tol-bok”. Tol-bok worn by a baby girl differs from the one worn by a baby boy. Both boys and girls wear a special belt known as tol-ddi. It is wrapped around the baby twice to wish a long life for the baby. They also wear a pouch or tol-jomuni for luck. The Tol-bok has no buttons. This fact should also contribute to baby’s long life.

Ddeok rice cakes

Let’s now move to the most important part of every Tol. It is called the “Toljabee”. Big table is prepared. The main dish put on it are rice cakes or “ddeok”. Often the family prepares more than 12 different rice cakes. Two examples or such cakes are “paekseolgi” (white steamed rice cakes) and “mujigae-ddeok” (rainbow coloured steamed rice cake). Beside variety of ddeok cakes some fruit is also put.

Table set for the Toljabee

Not only the food is put on the table. Other object you can see are some thread, a brush, a Korean calligraphy set, pencil, book, money (10,000 won banknotes), bow and arrow for boys and needle, scissors, and ruler for girls. Of all the objects mentioned, bow and arrow are not very popular in Korea today.

After the table is set, parents put the baby on “bolou” (traditional mattress) or on “bangshuk” (traditional pillow). The Toljabee begins.

The baby picks one of the objects set on the table. The chosen object predicts baby’s future. Bow and arrow predict that the baby will become strong and a warrior. Chosen thread means a long life. Baby who chooses a pencil, book or a calligraphy set will become a famous scholar.

Choosing rice, rice cakes or the money means that the baby is going to be rich. It must be said that chosen rice cake is not always a good sign. Some say that then the baby is going to be dumb.

Baby who chooses one of the following objects - a ruler, scissors or a needle - is going to be very skilled with hands. Finally a knife chosen means a career in a restaurant as a famous chef.